I just finished reading Bill Simmons' fiction piece on the 2004 championship, which I knew it would come within hours of hearing the world altering news of Manny.
I have to say with a heavy heart, that my baseball days are done.
I have been a baseball fan since I can remember. One of my uncles took me to watch an Aguilas Cibaeñas-Tigres del Licey game when I was about four years old, and I take pride in the fact that I can remember 28 years later the exact place where we sat.
Baseball was my life and it was not only for me, but for my entire family as well. I always wanted to emulate my two older cousins Francisco Jose Rodriguez and Kevin Cabral (who is now employed by ESPN en Español), who knew every single player and their respective stats. I practiced this by trying to remember all the stats behind the baseball cards of my favourite players.
That little excercise paid off, and by age thirteen, I could tell you the complete roster of every major league team and I could follow up all the stats and remember most of them with ease. This was way before the internet era, so this was only possible if you where truly commited to the sport.
In my country, baseball is everything. It gives young guys that have nothing to aspire to in life, a way of making a living.
Way back when, we as Dominicans where a small third world country with not many things to cheer about. Then George Bell came along. He gave us purpose, a reason to believe that a poor kid from one of our Bateyes, could actually accomplish something in life and put us on the map.
Being known to the rest of the world for something other than being illegal immigrants or delincuents, gave us inmense pride. I can still remember back in '87 when people would just gather around one TV in cafes, shops, cafeterias, on colmados in the street, you name it, and hug a complete stranger and jump up and down like a crazed dog whenever Bell hit one of his 47 homeruns.
As the years progressed, the dominicans in the Big Leagues started to make a name for themselves as premier athletes, and by 1994, we had guys like Moises Alou, Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Luis Polonia, Jose Rijo, Mariano Duncan, Tony Fernandez and the likes, giving us plenty to feel proud of.
Then the strike came and with it, my love for the sport left me. I felt cheated and robbed. I was torn, decimated.
It took me four years to come back to the sport I had always loved and that had given me so much to feel happy about.
If George Bell's 1987 season was something to cheer about, you have no idea what it meant to be a fan in the DR in 1998. Sammy put us on the map, and not just the baseball map, the entire globe's map. He was even revered in Japan, where I had the privilege of living from 1987 to 1989, and NOBODY knew what Dominican Republic was, let alone know where it was located.
He went to Congress and sat next to the then First Lady Hillary Clinton on an invitation from President Clinton.
How could I not be drawn back to baseball, if it had given us so much hope once again? I put the hole strike behind me and decided to move on, and to keep on cheering for our guys.
We had Pedro, we had Sammy, we had Manny, we had Vladimir, we had Tejada, to some Dominicans we even had A-Rod (to me he is what he is, American), we had Felipe Alou. We had the best hitters, the best pitcher and the best manager in the Big Leagues.
Baseball clubs where building camps here at an alarming rate. It was a great time to be a Dominican. We were being noticed.
Then Danny Almonte came along and put a blemish in our reputation. This incident led to a series of investigations that put all of our players at risk of being scrutinized. Turns out that to this list, the names of Miguel Tejada and Valdrimir Guerrero would be included many years later.
So it began the demise of all that was worth cheering for (once again), but little did we know that Danny Almonte was just the tip of the iceberg.
Congress decided that it was time to act on all the rumors of steroids and HGH in the Majors, and there is when it all fell apart.
Our biggest hero, our ambassador to the world, Sammy Sosa, he who put so many smiles on our faces with his contagious charisma, and restored the faith the we had lost in baseball, was in the cheaters group.
This was just the first name on a long list of people that where once higly regarded by me and my fellow country men, to whom we are gratefull for a lot of things, especially making the game matter again. But this was a huge blow to our pride, and gave us a stigma that will be very hard to remove in the years to come, and now we where not recognized as a country full of talent, but a country full of cheaters and liars.
At some point, as the list grew bigger, we lost the capacity to be amazed. We became numb and as every new name came along, our only reaction was: "who's next?".
Still, it was hard to part ways again with the sport, and we put our collective faith in the rising star Albert Pujols and the everlasting Manny Ramirez.
I have been a Manny fan since he was Playing with Las Aguilas Cibaeñas in our winter league, and to this day, I loved watching every single at-bat. I could not understand how simple he made the science of hitting. I marveled at his obliviousness towards everything happening around him, but still maintiaining great discipline and work ethic. I forgave all his antics on and off the field for the sheer joy that he gave me with every swing.
How many people in the history of the sport meassure up to the level that Manny has been in for all these years?
When I heard the news today, I felt sick to my stomach to the point where I felt as if somebody in my family had died. I still cannot come out of my surprise and I remember telling a couple of my friends many months ago, that no one would surprise me if their name ever came up with a positive steroid test result, but that if Manny's name ever did, I was through with baseball.
Now that I'm faced with the reality, I don't think I can take the deception anymore. Time and again I have come back to root for the sport that I had once loved, and time and again I keep getting hurt. Not only as a sports fan, but as a Dominican as well.
All in all, the saddest part is that I forgive Manny and naive as it may sound, I believe him (shame on me).
I wish I can still say that we have Albert Pujols, but I wouldn't want to be faced with deception again.
MLB, it was a great 25 year relationship, but it's time we part ways.
Nota: Esta entrada esta en ingles, porque la escribi para el blog que tengo en el perfil de ESPN.com.
Update1: Agradezco enormemente a ESPN.com, por haber colocado esta entrada en su portal. Pendragoon es mi nombre de usuario en ese site.
Update2: Esta entrada logro entrar a "Lo Mejor de la Semana" de ESPN.com Profiles. Muchas gracias!