The Nationals in the Dominican Republic: One last word
Those there are photographs, taken with my BlackBerry, of Carlos Alvarez's fake passport, which last week I held in my hand.
The Tuesday before last, I had been spending the better part of the afternoon with Jose Rijo. We were talking about his life in the aftermath of the scandal that got him fired, and he delved into why he believes he is innocent. He called Jose Baez, his friend and the Nationals' former Dominican coordinator, and invited him over. Baez - who recently lost a legal appeal to the Nationals in court - had me and Rijo meet him at his house to give me some papers he wanted me to see. He also handed me the copy of Alvarez's fake passport, which he had kept from Feb. 11, 2009, the day he visited with Alvarez after learning his identity had been revealed as fake.
That was probably the most surreal moment of the several days I spent in the Dominican Republic, time I used to report two stories. One of them ran in the paper Tuesday. The other will run in tomorrow's paper, and you can read it here now [An earlier version of this blog post had an incorrect link to the story that appeared in Friday's editions.]
The one broader theme I didn't touch on in either story is the myriad problems baseball faces in the Dominican. Those in the baseball community there are an insular group of people, like a small town. Just about everyone inside knows everybody and everything that is going on. It's hard for someone outside - like Major League Baseball - to first break into that circle and then to understand.
Baseball is more than sport; it's a means to break an entrenched poverty. This is a cliched view of the country, but also in many cases very real. One person I spoke with said he couldn't blame kids for faking their age. Yes, the man said, Carlos Alvarez lied to the Nationals and to the league and used those lies to make hundreds of thousands of dollars. But, he continued, if the worst thing Carlos Alvarez is fake his age so his family can move out of a house that doesn't have a floor, well, he's not the problem. The system is broken, and the society is simply abiding by it.
"We used to have a sugar cane field. It's gone," Rijo said late in the afternoon, speaking about his home town of San Cristobal. "We used to have [a factory] with 5,000 jobs. It's gone. We used to have the gun company. Gone. Duty-free. Gone. We used to have a hotel in this town. We don't have one anymore. We used to have three movie theaters. We don't have movies anymore. All the job opportunities here are gone. What's people going to do? Be honest? And get a job where?"
As for the stories, I thought it was important to highlight the Nationals' progress and the lingering issues in two separate stories, because they really are two distinct issues. While skepticism is constantly in order when it comes to the Dominican, I was impressed by the Nationals' staff, led by Fausto Severino and Moises De La Mota, at their new academy. Their daily work bore virtually no connection to what had happened down there two years ago.
But I also didn't want to ignore the whereabouts of Rijo and Alvarez, which remain, in my eyes, compelling pieces to a story that isn't dead yet. There's a natural barrier between work the Nationals are doing now and the fallout they have to deal with. Hence, two stories. I hope you learned from them and liked them.
And now, it's on to the Nationals' 2011 season. I fly out of Reagan Sunday morning, and I should be in Viera by 11 or so. Can't wait. I'll see you then.
| February 11, 2011; 6:15 PM ET
Categories: minors & farm system
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