Dominican players finally make spring training

Omar Beltre and Alexi Ogando’s long wait to attend their first

major league spring training is over.

Beltre and Ogando arrived in the Texas Rangers camp and took to

the practice fields for the first time Friday. The two

right-handers admittedly were involved in a human trafficking ring

in the Dominican Republic and were prohibited from entering the

United States for five years, a ban that finally ended this

year.

“Incredible,” the 28-year-old Beltre said. “It’s incredible

just to be here.”

Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine said the team tried every legal

and political avenue to secure visas for the players. But it wasn’t

until the past year, when the two pitchers talked to fellow players

through a program established be a non-governmental organization in

the Dominican Republic about how to avoid being dragged into a visa

scam, that the efforts paid off.

“That really resonated with us,” Levine said. “That was one

avenue we had not pursued and we thought it might be the avenue

that would bear fruit for us.”

Beltre was signed by the Rangers as a non-drafted free agent in

2001. He advanced to Class A Stockton in 2004, posting a 4-5 record

in 46 appearances, before the visa problems interceded.

Ogando, originally an outfielder in the Oakland organization,

was acquired through the Rule 5 draft in 2005 and switched to the

mound. The 26-year-old has yet to throw a pitch for the Texas

organization.

“It was a huge nightmare just knowing we had the talent to be

part of the big leagues and couldn’t leave the Dominican,” Ogando

said through an interpreter.

Their baseball careers had been limited to winter ball, the

domestic Dominican League and international tournaments. Beltre was

the first of the two on the mound Friday for a bullpen session

during the first day of workouts for the team’s 31 pitchers and

catchers.

“I felt better when I got here,” Beltre said.

Beltre and Ogando are the last two of the more than two dozen

players who participated in the fraud ring who still are contracted

with major league organizations. Both players remain on the

Rangers’ restricted list and do not count against the team’s 40-man

roster limit.

“There were a few things that factored into it, not the least

of which is these are two pitchers who at the same time are very

talented individuals,” Levine said. “And the more time you spend

with them, you realize what good people that are.”