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The Sportsman of the Day
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In just 11 days, Cleveland Indians’ catchers and pitchers (Yes, I put the catchers first; why do pitchers always get top billing?) will report to Goodyear, AZ for the start of spring training.
Fausto Carmona will not be among them.
Come to think of it, neither will Roberto Hernandez Heredia.
For some fans, particularly those who were less than thrilled with the Indians decision to re-sign the inconsistent starter this off-season, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Truth is, Tribe supporters who didn’t like Carmona before his arrest in the Dominican Republic downright despise him now.
And that’s a genuine shame.
Certainly the Indians’ front office has a right to be upset at being misled by the man they now know as Heredia, especially considering the extra three years of age that will now be added to his updated baseball cards. But before fans and other interested observers start casting stones at the man for his dishonesty, it is only fair to at least attempt to walk a mile in his shoes.
Or his sandals.
Or his bare feet.
It all depends on how bad things were that particular year on the tiny family farm he grew up on in his impoverished home country.
According to official government statistics, as reported by Rural Poverty Portal, well over one-third of the Dominican population lives in poverty, with the vast majority of those existing in “extreme poverty”. Further, about 20 percent of the poorest Dominicans do not receive most types of social assistance because they are without proper documentation, such as birth certificates and identity papers.
If you’re scoring at home, here’s the equation:
Extreme poverty + desperation + incomplete birth records + an extremely gifted right arm = Roberto Fausto Heredia Carmona.
The truth of the matter is that none of us can honestly comprehend the hopelessness that must hang over the head of every impoverished soul in a country like the one Heredia calls his homeland.
Close your eyes when you have a moment, and in the deep recesses of your imagination, open them and visualize the dirt road and crumbling shack before you. Feel the ragged clothes. Witness your family members near starvation, loved ones living in virtual homelessness, and no prospects beyond whatever the fields may produce in the next growing season.
Then, as you pass the time and block out the despair by losing yourself in a game of ball with friends, let your eyes gaze upon the man watching nearby. Listen as the man introduces himself as a Major League Baseball scout who has been scouring your countryside looking for soft hands, quick wrists, and live arms — just like yours.
You learn that a 15 or 16-year-old with a sweet swing or a power fastball is worth a lot more to this man with the clipboard than a 19 or 20-year-old is.
And you look back again at the shack that houses your hungry family.
Now ask yourself: Are you so suddenly wrapped up in morality and ethics that you’d scribble down what you believe to be your correct birthdate, when one stroke of a different number at the end of that date could lift yourself and your family to heights you never dreamed possible?
If it sounds like I’m trying to justify Heredia’s deception, well, I guess I am.
Normally I wouldn’t condone cheating or lying, especially when multi-million dollar contracts are being negotiated, and a ball club needing to know exactly what they’re getting for their long-term investment. What I’m asking, however, is for the rest of us to simply put ourselves in his place for just a few minutes, back when he was a teenager, before we cast our first stones at him.
Even here at home, if someone told you they’d give you $10,000 to do a job at your age, but $50,000 if you were a couple years younger, wouldn’t you be tempted to tell them whatever age they wanted to hear? Even if you had to offer someone else a percentage of your money to borrow their name for a few years?
Perhaps you wouldn’t. Perhaps you’ve contemplated the possibility and convinced yourself that you’d rather suffer and starve with your integrity than take advantage of an opportunity that would only come once.
But I doubt it.
And even if you’d let that opportunity pass, I hope you won’t begrudge someone else who didn’t.
Even if Heredia is never granted another visa to work here in the United States, I doubt he’ll ever regret the little white lie that pulled himself and his family out of the ditch that Dominican life had thrown them into.
It is my sincere hope that No. 55 is able to make amends with the federal governments of both nations he calls home, and the first time he climbs the mound in the center of Progressive Field as Roberto Heredia, I’ll be standing and cheering — even if others are throwing stones.