For many impoverished kids in the Dominican Republic, playing baseball is the only way off the island. That was certainly the case for Miguel Sano.
In the baseball-loving country, Sano became one of the Dominican’s best players at a young age. He drew the attention of major-league scouts and front office executives as a teenager. They’d fly down to watch his workouts with the hopes of eventually signing the power-hitting third baseman.
With a bright future in baseball, Sano eventually became destined to get out of the poverty he grew up in the Dominican. He lived in a small, run-down house with eight people.
"Well the neighborhood where we lived is a poor neighborhood," Sano said. "We were a very poor family. My dad and mom pushed themselves a lot, and my grandma, to raise all of my siblings working hard."
Baseball was Sano’s ticket to a better life. Without much money, though, Sano and his friends had to make do with what they had just to try to play the game of baseball.
"We made a ball out of a sponge with a sock, with a sock, we made the things like that and played baseball here in the street," he said. "You know, all the people in the neighborhood, from there and there and that’s how we all played here."
But amid all of the hype, there was plenty of speculation about Sano’s actual age. It’s not uncommon for players’ ages to be altered to make them younger than they really are so they can sign with major-league baseball teams for bigger money. After a certain age, the signing bonuses drop off.
Sano’s plight was captured in the documentary "Ballplayer: Pelotero," which followed Sano and fellow Dominican prospect Jean Carlos Batista as they went through the ups and downs of attempting to sign with big-league clubs. Sano and his family had plenty of hoops to jump through to prove he was really as old as he said he was. Yet even though he proved his age was accurate through DNA and bone tests, some MLB teams were scared off.
In their biggest international signing in team history, the Twins inked Sano as a 16-year-old in 2009. He also landed a signing bonus of more than $3 million, which can go a long way in the Dominican Republic. He’s now ranked by Baseball Prospectus as the No. 14 prospect in all of baseball and the No. 2 prospect on the Twins, behind outfielder Byron Buxton.
Sano’s path to the major leagues appeared to have him arriving in 2014, but the Twins prospect suffered a setback this spring. He underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow. Sano will miss the entire 2014 season but could debut in the majors in 2015.
When that day comes and Sano dons a Twins jersey and runs onto Target Field for the first time, his long and winding journey from the Dominican Republic will finally be complete.