Mike Diaz bristles, instinctively and defensively, whenever anyone refers to them as his aunt and uncle.
"They're my mother and father," he'll say protectively.
Jesse and Alicia Perez took Diaz into their home after his mother, Wendy, was killed in a car accident. Diaz was 18 months old. He moved in with the family of Alicia Perez, his mother's sister, because his father was financially unable to support Diaz.
Now a senior pitcher at Burbank Burroughs, Diaz lives with the Perez family in a two-bedroom apartment in Burbank. He stays in touch with his father, Juan, and visits him in Pacoima, but considers home to be with the Perezes.
"The earliest memories I have are knowing my aunt and uncle were raising me as their own son," he said.
Diaz was too young to realize how much his life would change when his mother died. She was driving toward an intersection in Sun Valley when her brakes failed. She was sideswiped at the intersection and crashed head-on into a truck.
It was never a question where Diaz would live.
"It was automatic," Perez said. "There's no way he was going to go anywhere else."
Diaz, an only child, considers the Perezes' son, Jesse, to be a brother, not a cousin. Jesse Perez is a junior infielder at Cal State Northridge who also played at Burroughs, three years ahead of Diaz.
Diaz learned from Perez, who passed down techniques he was taught in high school -- don't pull the ball every time, learn the art of bunting, etc. -- so Diaz could apply them while in grade school.
"I had a step on the kids I played with," said Diaz, who is now Burroughs' top pitcher.
The 6-foot, 220-pound right-hander pitched a 1-0 shutout against Lynwood and picked up a save against Arcadia. Diaz (1-1) didn't fare as well against Foothill League power Newhall Hart last Friday, surrendering eight runs and 10 hits in four innings of an 11-7 loss.
But Burroughs (4-1) is playing well. Diaz's future looks solid -- he plans to be the first in his immediate family to go to college and he hopes to join his cousin at Northridge.
He thinks of his mother sometimes, but he also thinks of where he would be without the Perez family.
"They raised me as their own son," he said. "It's good to have parents like that."
Reseda Cleveland won the City Championship last season for the first time since 1982 but the Cavaliers already feel left out.
Early-season City Section chatter has focused on Chatsworth and Woodland Hills El Camino Real, not the Cavaliers, who graduated 10 seniors and whose 6-1 record has almost been ignored because of a soft schedule.
"People always pick Chatsworth and El Camino Real [to win the City title], which is fine, but I think these kids here deserve as much recognition as they do," Cleveland Coach Joe Cascione said. "Times change and Cleveland is part of that mix, too. We're going to prove it again this year."
The most underwhelming start belonged to Lakewood, which was expected to be top-10 caliber but instead flopped to a 1-3 beginning, including a 10-1 loss to Fountain Valley.
The reason? The pitching staff was as scuffed up as a Joe Niekro knuckleball.
Jason Wanamaker, 11-1 last year, had a sore right shoulder and Danny Johnson, the Lancers' No. 2 pitcher, had a dislocated finger.
"They didn't work out with us. They just kind of stood there and moped," Lakewood Coach Spud O'Neil said.
Both pitchers are back and Lakewood has won four of its last five.
Johnson pitched a one-hitter Saturday and struck out seven in a 4-1 victory over South Gate. Wanamaker, though not completely healthy, had six strikeouts in five innings of a 6-3 victory over Downey Warren.
"Now that we have them back, we're out of our disarray," O'Neil said.
A year ago, he was a designated hitter by necessity, unable to throw more than 80 feet because he had torn a muscle in his right shoulder.
Jeff Flaig continued to hit for Placentia El Dorado despite injuring his shoulder in a preseason scrimmage, walking up to the plate three or four times a game, doing pretty well, and then watching as his teammates take the field without him.
"It was frustrating watching everybody play while I just sat in the dugout," Flaig said.
Flaig, a senior, is playing third base after off-season surgery, with promising results. He was batting .636 with two home runs and 14 runs batted in. El Dorado has prospered with victories against Huntington Beach Marina, Anaheim Canyon and Santa Margarita.
Flaig, whose natural position is pitcher, won't pitch this season, but Coach Steve Gullotti said it shouldn't damage his status in the eyes of scouts.
"It's kind of strange; half the scouts like him as a pitcher and half like him as a position player and hitter," Gullotti said. "He has that rare opportunity to go either way, which is going to increase his stock."