Alvarez/González: 'I Feel Bad, Really Bad'
Thursday, February 26, 2009; Page E01
SANTANA, Dominican Republic, Feb. 25 -- Carlos Daniel Alvarez Lugo grew up here, where potholes and pavement compete for space just off what amounts to a thoroughfare between the south-central cities of San Cristobal and Bani. He says he also grew up in the even smaller village of Pizarrete, with chickens walking in the dirt outside his one-room concrete house with a tin shack attached on one side. He says he grew up, too, in Bani, where his parents live now, in relative comfort. His real parents.
"That's where my father lives, in Bani," Alvarez said. "But I live everywhere, all three. My family is everywhere."
His story leads just about everywhere around the province of Peravia, of which Bani is the capital. Here, Carlos Daniel Alvarez Lugo authored a whopper of a tale -- assuming both a fraudulent name, Esmailyn González, and a fraudulent age, 13 when he was actually 17 -- helped by accomplices he is reluctant to identify. The Washington Nationals, whose officials say they were unaware of the scam, gave Alvarez a $1.4 million signing bonus in the summer of 2006 because they believed he was a promising 16-year-old shortstop who would turn 17 that September. Now, Alvarez acknowledges, he was in fact a 20-year-old shortstop, who actually turned 21 that November, and therefore a much less valuable commodity.
"I feel bad, really bad," Alvarez said Tuesday, in his first interview since the scheme became public last week.
Exactly how this all happened is unclear, and Alvarez's version -- parts of which he told here, sitting at a chair affixed to an outdoor table at a ramshackle gas station -- is unlikely to be the final word on the matter. Still, he said Wilton Martínez, whom he introduced as his cousin and who was present for the interview, first thought up the scheme; that "from what I know," Nationals officials did not take any of his money, though that possibility is still being investigated by Major League Baseball; and that he wants forgiveness from whoever will grant it.
"I feel bad because of what I did," Alvarez said through an interpreter. "I want to ask the president to forgive me for what I did." Asked which president, he said, "The one from the major leagues."
Alvarez's story is murky, involving his own impoverished past and the way lives can change with a sum as great as $1.4 million, the largest bonus the Nationals have ever granted a Latin American prospect. It runs through Pizarrete and Santana, two villages separated by several miles of sugar cane fields, where Alvarez says he has homes, and Bani, where his two-story cement house is encased by fences, guarding the parking spaces for his white Cadillac Escalade and red Honda Accord.
The story touches the city of San Cristobal, the home town of former major league pitcher José Rijo, installed by General Manager Jim Bowden as the face of the Nationals' efforts in the Dominican Republic. It is in the hills above San Cristobal, at the Nationals' training facility known as Loma del Sueno -- Mountain of the Dream -- where Alvarez honed his skills after signing with the Nationals. Coaches and players said he has not been at the academy since Feb. 17, when Sports Illustrated first reported his true age and identity.
Martínez described Alvarez as "embarrassed and depressed."
The facility is owned by Rijo, whose involvement in the scouting and securing of the player he said he knew as Esmailyn González is being investigated -- and has cost him his job with the Nationals, who have decided to let Rijo go. Last year, Bowden and Rijo acknowledged speaking with the FBI about the matter as part of a federal probe into baseball's Latin American scouting practices. Bowden, speaking this week to reporters at the team's spring training facility in Viera, Fla., reiterated that he is innocent. Rijo emphatically denied any wrongdoing in an interview in San Cristobal earlier this week.
"I don't care about my job or the money," Rijo said. "It's my reputation. That's what matters. That's what I have to fight for. That's why I have to speak. . . . We were all fooled."
Alvarez's story also runs through Dominican baseball in general, because forging ages has been common here for a generation or more. All-star shortstops Rafael Furcal and Miguel Tejada, the latter of whom is from Bani, are just two of the players who signed professional contracts as teenagers only to have it revealed later that they were two years older than they said at the time.