Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For Dominican Hopefuls, Baseball Is a Game of Ages

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For Dominican Hopefuls, Baseball Is a Game of Ages

Article excerpt

On a field of brown dirt and sharp rocks here in a land that is crazy about baseball, former major league pitcher Joaquin Andujar is searching for talent.

His eyes look sleepy, and his hands are fidgety - until one player picks up a bat and catches his attention. The player, an outfielder, is named Randal Carrion, and his arms are rail-thin.

But he can hit.

Carrion swings at one batting practice pitch after another and drills balls into the outfield gaps. He hits another high and deep, and does not even pause to watch. For sure, there are some kinks in his swing, but to a seasoned eye like Andujar's, the potential is apparent.

"You see that guy?" he says, motioning with the pitching arm that won him 127 games over 12 seasons in the big leagues. "He has power. I saw him hit one over the fence the other day. And he's only 14 years old!"

Actually, Carrion says he is 16. But who really knows?

It's not without reason that his age is a subject of interest here. In what is arguably the world's deepest baseball talent pool, the younger the player, the greater his worth. The fudging of ages - and the altering of documents - has been commonplace as long as scouts have scoured this Caribbean island.

Danny Almonte, the Dominican pitcher who last year played in the Little League World Series, representing the Bronx, drew world attention when it was revealed that he was 14 and not 12. The team eventually had to forfeit its third-place finish, and Almonte's spectacular no-hitter was erased from the record books.

And this year, as baseball's spring training is under way in Florida and Arizona, roughly 100 pros from the Dominican Republic have been found to be older than previously thought, according to a Major League Baseball official.

Among the big names are Bartolo Colon (Cleveland Indians), Rafael Furcal (Atlanta Braves), Rey Ordonez (New York Mets), Neifi Perez (Kansas City Royals), and Ramon Ortiz (Anaheim Angels). The majority, however, are minor-league players still hoping to make it to "The Show."

The revelations came from the United States Consulate in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, as the players were applying for visas before the season. According to US officials, they looked at each application - which now requires a birth certificate - with greater scrutiny than in the past.

"We've increasingly become aware of invalid dates of birth being presented in applications for athletes seeking visas to go to the US and play there, whether professionally or otherwise," said a statement from the US consular office. "As with all visa applications, we have a responsibility to verify the basic biographic information presented to us. …

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