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Notes From The Dominican Republic

Svrluga here, with some notes from more than a week in the Dominican Republic. Hopefully some of it's pertinent.

I've now been to Jose Rijo's complex in the hills outside the southern city of San Cristobal several times, including on my first trip down here in December 2006. Then, I watched a tryout for kids. Manny Acta was there. Scouting director Dana Brown was there. Rijo was there.

That day, I remember thinking how nice the place was, even if it was quite isolated. And the pessimist in me got to thinking: Maybe this was all kind of staged. They knew we would be there because we were coming down to cover Acta returning to his home town of Consuelo, and perhaps they cleaned the place up and made it look better for us to give a better impression.

But when I went this week - completely unannounced - it was the same. Very neat and tidy, with well-kept fields. I think it was probably the cleanest place I've been in the Dominican Republic, without exaggeration.

Which brings me to this portion of the transcript of Stan Kasten's remarks from yesterday:

"They're going to a place [that is] very much nicer," Kasten said of the Nationals' Dominican prospects. "The lodging will be nicer, and the facilities will be nicer. So there's a lot of optimism, a lot of enthusiasm, and the new staff, new facilities, we're optimistic about it."

Well, what I saw was a bit different.

For one, there was fear in a lot of the faces of the players. That makes sense. "It's all happening so fast," one of them said, and there was, during much of a long day at Rijo's complex, much angst - particularly before the players heard about what would definitely happen.

After Rijo addressed the players before he departed, he received a round of applause. "He means so much to us," said one player, though it's clear that none of these kids knows the whole story. Nor, of course, do any of us.

Indeed, Mike Rizzo, new Dominican director Fernando Ravelo and assistant director of player development Mark Scialabba received two rounds of applause from the players during their 20-minute meeting. But to pass this off as an obvious improvement just doesn't seem fair.

Boca Chica: The beach-side town to the east of the capitol of Santo Domingo is a hub of baseball activity. We visited the six-team complex that makes up the heart of it, a place where the Cubs, White Sox, Reds, Twins, Orioles and Diamondbacks all have facilities. The Mets and Yankees are "three minutes away," one club official said, and I believe the Pirates' new complex is going to be quite nearby.

In San Cristobal, the Nationals were a bit isolated. They shared their complex with the Tigers, and used to do so with the Padres (who have now built a new place). But they played the same teams over and over, while the teams on the east side of Santo Domingo are better situated to mix things up.

But to say that the complex in Boca Chica is "very much nicer" simply isn't the case. It's simpler, and is totally fine - there's nothing wrong with it.

"Rijo's place is nicer," said Jose Serra, who runs the Cubs' Dominican program. "But this is better for what we're trying to accomplish."

That all makes sense. We hung out at the Cubs' complex for quite some time one afternoon this week, and I'll fold that into a story that will likely run next weekend.

Also, on Fernando Ravelo, the Nationals' new Dominican chief. Ravelo is well-known in baseball circles in the Dominican. (And, really, it's amazing how small the Dominican baseball community is. Everybody seems to know everybody, from major leaguers to buscones to coaches, etc.)

Ravelo has been the general manager of Tigres del Licey, the powerful Dominican team in the winter league, described to me by almost anyone who wants to provide an analogy as the Yankees of the Dominican. (Aguillas, also based in Santo Domingo, would be the Red Sox.)

But Ravelo has had other roles. He was the assistant GM of the Dominican team in the World Baseball Classic in 2006, and he is serving in that position again this year. (Former major leaguer Stan Javier is the GM.)

Now, who was the manager of the Dominican team last time around? Oh, right. It was Manny Acta. I've been told - though I haven't had a chance to ask Acta about it yet - that Ravelo and Acta are quite close.

When Acta was hired, Kasten noted what his presence in Washington could mean to the Nationals' profile in the Dominican Republic. That's not, Kasten made clear, why Acta got the job, but merely an ancillary benefit.

Rijo, though, was the face of the Nationals down here - for better or worse. It is hard to exaggerate his standing here. People wave and honk when he drives by, and his personality - outgoing, always smiling, amazingly personable - causes lots of people to overlook any warts. Those warts, it seems, are coming out now.

Maybe Acta and Ravelo can change that. But make no mistake: The Nationals are now behind in an area in which they desperately wanted to get ahead.

One more thing: Esmailyn Gonzalez/Carlos Alvarez.

When I met with the kid the other day in his home town of Santana, the shame on his face was apparent. He showed up with the man he said was his cousin, Wilton Martinez, and told some of his story. He is clearly being pulled in lots of directions. His American agent, Stanley King, doesn't want him talking about any of it lest it interfere with his visa situation (and we'll get to that in coming days). People in the Dominican, many of them who might be caught up in the scandal, want him to step up and take the blame. It's hard for him to figure out where his loyalties should be.

And there is still the matter of the money. Where did it go? When I asked him, he said he gave it to his family. But I have heard all the stories down here: That Rijo and/or Jose Baez, the former manager of the Nationals' Dominican program, were involved in skimming. Basilio Vizcaino, the buscon who got him signed, has been implicated as well by people in the baseball community. Those who believe the kid got his money say that it was in an uncle's account, and that they can prove it. Why was it there? Who knows? But it's clear the kid didn't want anyone looking into skimming allegations, because that could lead to uncovering the truth about his age.

Alvarez is still part of the Washington organization. This situation must be resolved going forward, and soon. There is talk of a news conference when and if Alvarez arrives for spring training in Viera, Fla., when the Nationals' minor leaguers report March 13. Whatever takes place there, it won't be as wild as what I've seen this week.

By Barry Svrluga  |  February 27, 2009; 2:22 PM ET
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Next: Rizzo Explains The DR Mission


No matter what the new place looks like, it has to be nicer than Rijo's place. Why? Because it lacks that certain smell.

Posted by: nunof1 | February 27, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Forgive me, Blogfather, but I must ask a non-Smiley question to the general denizens of NatsTown (basically a repost that got new posted). It is a John Lannan question, well-known groundball specialist and victim of an extraordinarily high HR/FB rate last year. The data are from Fangraphs:

"One thing I noticed in his pitch type breakdown was that his slider and changeup are nearly identical in speed (average between 80 and 81 MPH). Does throwing a slider and a change at practically the same speed make both more deceptive? You hear often that there needs to be a gap between the fastball and the change to be effective, and Lannan's gap isn't much (6 -7 MPH), but does he get a benefit from the closeness of his slider / change?"

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | February 27, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

"Also, on Fernando Ravelo, the Nationals' new Dominican chief. Ravelo is well-known in baseball circles in the Dominican. (And, really, it's amazing how small the Dominican baseball community is. Everybody seems to know everybody, from major leaguers to buscones to coaches, etc.)"

If it's such a small community, how come no one else in the D.R. figured out the scam...? Or was everybody in on it?

Posted by: Juan-John | February 27, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, o Blogfather.

One does wonder about that, Juan-John.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 27, 2009 3:12 PM | Report abuse

My big question: Didn't all this mess begin with long-time, close, DR relationships?

Why would the new coaches and staff be any different than what we just broke off with? Who's to say we won't get another story like this on in a couple years?

Posted by: NatsNut | February 27, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

The Post hasn't called you back to cover the inane minutiae of the Haynesworth signing?

At any rate, you seem to have gotten a better deal than Chico. The storyline is juicier, the weather is probably better, and you don't have to eat at Panera.

Posted by: JohninMpls | February 27, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

... let's see now: in spite of Barry's first hand and eye reports, Stan says the new place is a step up, if not a veritable palace, compared to Jose's hacienda. So that settles it; Jose had to go.

... there now. Rijo's gone; the Nats' Dominican kids are resettled in their new digs; and JimBo is as innocent as the feet of snow that fell on my front lawn last weekend, albeit he had to fall on his cellphone and do the dirty deed - just to rub it in.

... so the writing is on the wall. Jim is still with us, and will be for a while yet. He's done his penance; he'll be on a shorter leash that the 'Rott' down the street, but he'll start and likely finish the year with the Nats.

... the question is: how many wins this season will it take to reinstate him to former glory?

... I'd say if the team wins seventy-five to eighty, all will be forgiven and he'll stay in DC to start 2010; if not, it's "adios amigo. I hear there's an opening in DR".

Posted by: natscanreduxit | February 27, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Okay, my turn to pose an off-topic query: anybody know how to find a link to the live Gameday thing for these spring training games? Yesterday, someone posted a link in the comments. Today, I used that link and figured out how to edit it to get today's game. That will get old, though. So how do I find it via the Nats' or MLB's site? Anyone have any success there? Gracias.

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 27, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Juan-John, no one said anything about everyone knowing the players.

What I still can't figure out is how or why a 17 year old would decide to pose as a 13 year old in hopes of a contract down the line instead of trying to get signed himself as a 17 year old. Sure his chances of getting a deal were better, but I don't understand how he would decide the risk is worth it given that he was still in prime signable age? He wouldn't get the big dollars, but his route to the US and maybe the major leagues was still open to him. THAT makes me think there were bigger characters pulling the strings behind the scene.

Posted by: estuartj | February 27, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure that it's over yet, natscan. Time will tell.

Scooter, one way that I'm aware of is via the story capsules at the top left of the team's home page (the stories are numbered under photos that you can toggle through). There you'll find a boxscore link and a Game Day audio link.

I think that you can also get there from the MLB main site (under Schedule, if memory serves).

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 27, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Shoot. Memory did not serve. It's under Scoreboard on the MLB site.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 27, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Hate to state the obvious but could some1 get down to FLA and report on what we're all really interested in---THE BASEBALL GAMES!! Remember the Nats are actually playin games now. I thought baseball sports writers cover that kinda thing. Would be nice.

Posted by: dovelevine | February 27, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Also, the current standings indicate that the Nats are .5 game out of first place in the National League. I know, I know. It's only spring training. It's only three games. But I don't care. I just wanted to point that out. So there.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 27, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I think that Chico and Boz are in Fla.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 27, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Seriously who gives a flyin whatever about all this Dominican stuff. Couldn't care whether the kid is 16 or 160 at this point. I want to know about Dukes hitting, Milledge hitting, the pitchers, Willingham, the baseball players actually playin baseball. HELLO???

Posted by: dovelevine | February 27, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

>>I think that Chico and Boz are in Fla.

So where are the reports and updates from the games? Enough of this Woodward and Bernstein Dominican cr ap. If you broke the story that would be one thing. But youre way behind so just move on. Theres nuthin to see here.

Posted by: dovelevine | February 27, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Hey Nats fans, come to and join a growing Nationals community!

Posted by: ExtremeNatscom | February 27, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

I think the only people interested in this stuff are people who want Bowden fired. I'm not one of them and I do not delight in this negative stuff.

I think Bowden has done better as GM under difficult circumstances than anyone is willing to give him credit for. He took over a team with no owner, no farm system, and has had to work from the ground up. He brought in solid baseball men like Bob Boone. He drafted Ryan Zimmerman. Adam Dunn likely doesn't come here without Bowden's influence. I mean, anyone who starts a blog called "Fire Jim Bowden" obviously has some axe to grind that goes beyond one bad trade here and there -- did Bowden steal his girlfriend?

Posted by: raymitten | February 27, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Thanx, 1a. I was able to find links to something called a live boxscore in the places you mention, but not the fancy Gameday thing.

It's just occurred to me, though, that maybe I'm ad-blocking the links to the Gameday thing. Will explore that next time.

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 27, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

My guess is that if they're going to can Bowden it will be during a very slow media-availability time. Like a Friday night.

Posted by: NatsNut | February 27, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

You're welcome, Scooter. I'm don't know whether the fancy Gameday thing (where you can see pitch location and so forth) is up yet, but maybe others know.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 27, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

"I'm not sure" morphed into "I'm don't know." Yeesh.

The agenda/axe is pretty clear there, raymitten, as you say.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 27, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Glad to have you down there on the trail of this, Barry. For those around here who moaned about the Post's lack of Nats coverage over the last several years, we're getting a wealth of coverage now between Barry, Chico, and Boz. Okay, so it's been prompted by a ridiculous situation, but still...

I hope the Post continues this combo of Chico on the daily beat, Barry for the features/in-depth stories, and Boz for the commentary throughout the year.

Posted by: JennX_ | February 27, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

I'm think there's a new post, y'all.

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 27, 2009 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Barry, nice information, but it just does not interest me. The DR is not THE place where all baseball talent resides and this or that change to the Nats' DR development program amounts to little in terms of even long term Nats news. What I do find interesting is what the Nats will do with Smiley going forward. I don't care that Smiley pulled one over on the Lerners -- but can he play? If he can, then they should work something out with the kid and move on. Most MLB teams have fallen prey to this problem -- maybe not to the tune of 4 yeras and $1.4 Million, but am I supposed to be really moved by that Dollar number given the payrolls and bonuses paid (or not paid in terms of the Nats) by the big clubs.

Let's talk about Dukes and Kearns and who will play and who will sit, who looks to have trade value, who's coming back from injury, who's role is changing, lineup possibilities, etc. Nats baseball.

Posted by: dfh123 | February 27, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Darn you, Scooter! :-D

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 27, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

To the few who asked if anybody cares about the DR team: Yes, I care. To the extent I know that the Dominican Republic has a wealth of baseball talent, and I want the Nationals to have a presence there. I was starting to wonder why there hadn't been any noise made about signings in the Dominican since Smiley last summer. I hope that in the next few years this move and flushing of the Nats Dominican operations will bring prospects to the major league team and I'm curious how it all goes down. I was worried about the Nationals losing its entire operation there, so I'm happy there is real reporting on the situation and I'm pleased that the team is in a position to move forward with its Latin American scouting, especially in this country.

Posted by: cheeseburger53 | February 27, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Oh and Barry, I think Shawn Hill's sinker might be trying to get your attention...

Posted by: NatsNut | February 27, 2009 7:59 PM | Report abuse

"Ravelo has been the general manager of Tigres del Licey, the powerful Dominican team in the winter league, described to me by almost anyone who wants to provide an analogy as the Yankees of the Dominican. (Aguillas, also based in Santo Domingo, would be the Red Sox.)"

Sorry the "Aguilas" (no "Aguillas") are based out of Santiago, not in Santo Domingo.

Posted by: ulises_jorge | February 27, 2009 9:44 PM | Report abuse

Barry, don't look now, but his sinker is totally checking you out.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 27, 2009 10:52 PM | Report abuse

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