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.''