In case you missed it, RWO denizen Rocky quoted the old Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby earlier this week. “People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” So this weekend we’re daydream blissfully, savoring seven syllables, relishing four words, cherishing that single most reassuring phrase in the English language. At last, one hundred fourteen days after Murphy’s can o’ corn nestled into the glove of Craig, life resumes.
Word is out the slugging defector Yoenis Céspèdes of Cuba received a “visitor’s visa,” and has checked-in on the carnival that has set-up down there in south Florida. Céspèdes’ and the Marlins’ problem is he’s yet to obtain a work visa from the DR, where he’s holing-up, and he needs one to in-turn obtain the P1 visa he requires to work in the US. He’s got to negotiate a parade of dignitaries in blue suits who won’t be exceedingly concerned about the schedule for certain sporting activities commencing in the US on April 4. It’s visa time.
Now you’re no doubt savvy of the annual drama that ensues in embassies in places like Caracas and Santo Domingo in mid-February. It’s essentially that last indication that pitchers and catchers are in-fact about to “report.” And you’ve probably wondered aloud why why why mothers fathers sisters brothers and agents haven’t pestered players enough to make sure their visa papers are complete and in-order. Still, you have to recognize this visa thing can be embarrassing, exposing sensitive personal data, such as real names and actual ages. It’s dicey, but it’s required.
You note the recent case of 28 year-old Indians right-hander Fausto Carmona, who on January 19 became 31 year-old Roberto Hernandez when he was arrested by Dominican authorities for using a false identity trying to obtain a US visa.
And 29 year-old Marlins righty Juan Carlos Oviedo, who used to be 28 year-old Leo Nunez, got arrested in the DR on December 8. He was charged with using a false identity on official documents. Fortunately the 36 saves Nunez recorded in 2011 were sufficient to secure Oviedo a 6M deal for 2012, provided he gets back to the States to perform and collect.
Then there’s left-hander Wandy Rodriguez of the Astros, the one-time outfield prospect who had planned to shed two years and become pitcher Eny Cabreja, his boyhood teammate. Sadly, the erstwhile Cabreja forgot about the scheme, and witlessly applied for a Cédula, the official DR government identification document… So Wandy is still Rodriguez.
Fudged ages have been staple for Latin American prospects forever. In 2000, 17 year-old Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal was detained on several occasions for under-age drinking, quite a test of the
21 year-old’s patience. The former major leaguer and current GM of Escogido in the Dominican League, Moises Alou, believes there’s a double-standard that motivates Latin players to appear younger than they are. Quoted in the New York Times [Dave Seminara, February 23, 2011], Alou observed “Scouts only want to sign Dominican guys at 16, and that’s part of the problem. In the US they’ll sign guys much older, but down here, a guy is seen as past his prime by 18, and it creates pressure on these guys.”
Now you may say well all of this deceit is somewhat alarming! You smell corruption; you anticipate felonies. Your friends tell you no, you’re cynical, a joy-killing old grump. They accuse you of impurity, of intolerant suspicion. Some call you a Republican.
Fear-not, follow the money. You remember back in 1975 how Peter Seitz ruled that ball players become “free agents” if they play a full season without a contract. And how in 1976 players and owners agreed regardless, players are free agents once they log six years in the MLB. George Steinbrenner would pay them. Lots.
And as George’s loot commenced its flow toward players, citizens in places like Caracas and Santo Domingo began noticing what a ‘knack’ they had for this American Béisbol business. And also that you could get paid (lots) for playing it in places like New York City and Los Angeles. Seeing as how on the isle of Hispañola the concept of “getting paid” was somewhat novel, this Béisbol business attained a considerable degree of panâche. By and by a bonafide industry developed around it, grooming the local youth to ‘hit its way off the island.’ Busconés, the entrepreneurs that nurture and train the young hopefuls, emerged to represent top prospects before gift-bearing Yanquis.
Now you may say so what does all of this have to do with obtaining a visa? Well, naturally ‘hitting your way off the island’ became a fiercely competitive proposition. An effective busconé must therefore work extra aggressive to get you your at-bats. His tactics become invasive. A second New York Times report [Michael S Schmidt, October 25, 2009] notes “busconés regularly encourage prospects as young as age 14 to inject vitamins and painkillers in order to gain strength and enhance performance.” The culture becomes “ingrained with the notion that shots can improve performance.” Explaining why he injects his thirty players, busconé Victor Baez divulged “I cannot afford to give them meat.” The distinction between legal vitamins, painkillers, and food, and banned performance-enhancing drugs becomes blurred. Amid societies functioning barely above sustenance level, Greed and criminality in pursuit of Cash become customary.
The Seminara piece reveals what happens at the embassy. “According to Dave Sohier, the non-immigrant visa chief at the US embassy in Santo Domingo, delays [obtaining visas] most commonly affect young players who have had a brush with the law while in the United States. If a visa applicant has a criminal record, the embassy requests additional information to determine whether that crime makes him ineligible for a visa. If he is deemed ineligible, he can apply for a waiver. How quickly the player responds, and the severity of the crime usually dictate the length of the delay.”
The visa phenomenon does not result because what George Bell would call some “good-looking Dominican” dogs-it and fails to have his papers ready; you’re doubtless astounded to discover it’s your old friends Cash and Greed behind this peculiar Rite of Spring.
Commissioner Bud, never one to be fooled, assures Baseball Nation he has “devoted a massive amount of resources” to fight age and identity fraud, as well as drug use. In 2010 Selig tasked current Mets GM Sandy Alderson to make comprehensive recommendations to address the issues. Alderson met with “scouts, Dominican officials, and busconés” to assess the state of affairs. Yahoo! Sports [Jeff Passan, April 22, 2010] reports Alderson told the gathering “the system as it currently exists can’t continue.” As he left his MLB assignment to join the Mets, the initial phases of an undisclosed plan, expected to include harsh drug testing, were to be completed by the first day of the international signing period,
July 2, 2011. The fate of the plan’s balance, Alderson having moved-on, is presently unclear.
Reform not withstanding, Raffy, Edwar, Jhoulys, Jorgé, Edgmer, Guillermo, Juan, Esmil, Ramon, Jordan, and Wilin are due in camp Sunday. Hector G, Jonny H, and CarGo are expected on the 26th. The State Department is on stand-by. Here’s hoping the Rockies are ready.