Thursday, August 13, 2009

The on-ramp to the road to "The Show"

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2009 at 1:10 PM

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Our cover story this week deals with a rather unknown aspect of Major League Baseball: the game before the game. Or, maybe a better metaphor would be the on-ramp to the road to "The Show." Keny Sosa, who, until Sunday, pitched for the Missoula Osprey, had fought his way through the most competitive baseball country in the world to gain a foothold in the minor league system here in the states.

One aspect I touched just briefly was the use of steroids in the Dominican Republic.

I spoke with Fernando Mateo Mateo, President of Hispanics Across America, an organization that helps advocate for Dominican ballplayers in the United States.

“We believe that Major League Baseball has been totally ignoring the epidemic of steroid abuse in the Dominican Republic and Latin American countries,” Mateo told me. The league had made promises to Mateo’s organization, he said, that it would “implement certain programs through Latin America, and that they were going to keep a watchful eye.” Mateo said the league had promised to test Dominican kids for steroid use before they sign with Major League teams. If the kid’s using, he doesn’t get his signing bonus.

“They have consistently refused to do this,” Mateo said.

I asked Mateo what percentage of Dominican prospects use steroids.

“According to interviews we’ve had with some kids, it’s upwards of 80 percent,” he told me.

I left Mateo out of the final story for two reasons. First, I couldn’t verify any of his statistics; it was basically his word against Major League Baseball’s. And I wasn’t going to write that 80 percent of Dominican baseball players use steroids without pretty hard proof. Second, Keny Sosa says he has never used steroids (and he's never tested positive on any test). To include those numbers in a profile of him seemed to incriminate him by association, I thought. So I left Mateo’s statistics out. With that disclaimer, make what you will of his numbers.

Steroid use, however, does take place in the Dominican Republic, and Mateo's not the only source. Rob Ruck, the author of the seminal Dominican baseball book, The Tropic of Baseball, spoke about it, as well. If you’re a poor kid, Ruck noted, and baseball is your only way out of poverty, you’re likely to do whatever it takes to get on a Major League roster. Just stick a needle in your ass, and look the other way.

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