By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 25, 2009 10:38 AM
SANTANA, Dominican Republic, Feb. 25 -- When a Major League Baseball team signs a Dominican prospect, it must obtain a birth certificate and transfer all the information to a yellow card, which is then approved by the Civil State Office, receiving a stamp. The club must also present both parents' "cedulas," their national identification cards, two pictures of the player with pertinent information -- addresses and phone numbers -- as well as the signed contract. Clubs request an investigation if there is the remote possibility anything could be amiss, which is typical. In such cases, the MLB office in Santo Domingo assigns an investigator, as it has in the case of Nationals minor leaguer Carlos Daniel Alvarez Lugo.
Ronaldo Peralta, who runs MLB's Santo Domingo office, and Lou Melendez, MLB's vice president of international operations, both declined to comment on the investigation into Alvarez's deception or to provide specifics about the process. Jose Rijo, who represents the Nationals in his native Dominican Republic, said the club's paperwork was in order, and that the MLB office confirmed the player's age for at least three teams, including Washington.
"We couldn't find it out, and even the baseball office couldn't find it out at first," Rijo said. He added that Washington has come across other cases of fraud, but the team discovered the discrepancies early enough to prevent embarrassment. "He did something other kids do. He just did a damn good job of it."
The matter, though, has shaken the Nationals to their core, and the futures of General Manager Jim Bowden and Rijo are in play. Two sources in the Dominican Republic said the Nationals are considering abandoning Rijo's pristine San Cristobal facility in an effort to distance themselves from Rijo, who serves as a special assistant to Bowden. Last week, the club announced Rijo was taking a leave of absence from the club so that he wouldn't be a distraction and so that he could tend to his ailing mother. Indeed this week, Rijo visited his mother, Gladys Abreu, in her spare San Cristobal home several times, where she could not move from the bed. But he said he did not voluntarily walk away from spring training, where he frequently is in uniform and works with pitchers.
"They say I take a leave of absence," Rijo said this week. "I didn't take it. They give it to me."
Wednesday morning at Rijo's facility, more than 70 Nationals prospects -- who have won the Dominican Summer League championship two years in a row -- gathered as the sun rose over the ocean in the distance. Alvarez was not among them. Ever since last week, when Sports Illustrated first reported the truth about Esmailyn Gonzalez, his teammates had buzzed about the case. Some were reluctant to talk about him. Anyone who was asked about him as a player, though, said, "Muy bueno."
"He looks young," said Santiago Molina, a pitcher who also signed with the Nationals in 2006. "The only problem is the way he plays the game. The way he plays, he seems older. But his face. That's why everyone was surprised."