Alexi Ogando(notes) barely met the woman who cost him five years of his life. He didn’t get her name. Wouldn’t recognize her face. She still doesn’t seem real.
She haunted him. Ogando, one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, spent half a decade isolated from the world that was supposed to be his because of her. His jail cell was the 19,000-square-mile island on which he lived his whole life, the Dominican Republic, and he wasn’t allowed to decamp to America. Only a handful of men in the world threw a baseball harder than Ogando. The Texas Rangers cherished his right arm. No matter what the team did, it couldn’t get him past the border.
In 2004, Ogando married the woman he didn’t know. At least he thinks he did. He was among 30 young Dominican players who agreed to participate in sham marriages which played a vital role in an elaborate human-trafficking scheme. The new brides piggybacked on players’ work visas to get their own in the United States, then were farmed out by the scheme’s perpetrators as prostitutes or cheap labor.
For participating, Ogando was supposed to receive $3,000. The money never came. The consequences did. When Ogando applied for a U.S. work visa in early 2005, the State Department denied him. Same the next year. And the year after that. And the following year. Ogando pleaded ignorance from the start. The excuse wasn’t compelling enough to open the border.
“I trusted in God,” Ogando said. “I had to. There wasn’t anything else to trust in.”
Until another woman came along. She gave him her name. He learned her face. She was undeniably real.
And before his career vanished, she saved him.
“I think I can get him off,” Charisse Espinosa-Dash said, and she wasn’t the first to say so. It was February 2009. She was visiting Eladio Moronta, a New York Yankees prospect she represents, and ran into a group of Rangers executives at the team’s complex in the Dominican Republic. They talked about the cases of Ogando and Omar Beltre(notes), another hard-throwing right-hander, and how Espinosa-Dash believed she could do what the president of the United States couldn’t.
For all the appeals the Rangers had lodged to free Ogando and Beltre, the greatest went to the Oval Office, occupied by former Rangers owner George W. Bush. It didn’t lift the ban. Neither did working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security, a handful of immigration attorneys, the U.S. Consulate in the D.R. and intervention from Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association.
Their arguments that Ogando and Beltre were among the victims, too – led into the scheme by a man known as Wilson who ran in Dominican baseball circles – never resonated. Rejection beget dejection.
“These were kids who didn’t know the repercussions of violating a visa,” Espinosa-Dash said. “They don’t know fraud. They were just as vulnerable as the ladies being trafficked.”
Espinosa-Dash, one of a handful of female player agents, suggested another antidote: win the bureaucrats’ hearts instead of their minds.