Las Grandes Ligas

I remember the day this all started. I was 16 and scrawny, ok, just a little less scrawny than I am now. I’ll always remember that day in Santo Domingo when Jose slid my contract over the kitchen table in the dirt-floor home I grew up in.

Jose’s still down there signing those teenagers, all hoping to be like me. It’s weird, I never hoped for this. Never thought I’d do the things I’ve done to get here, but here I am, living the dream.

It’s not like I don’t enjoy playing baseball. I love it, the game itself. It’s everything else that comes with the game that bothers me. Days like today make me feel even more guilty than I usually do.

I’ll never forget that time when Rodrigo called me and told me they weren’t bringing him back for the next season. He was crying, I might have been too. We played at every level together, and he was always better than me, at every level. He tore his knee up, and the team didn’t think he’d recover fully, and wouldn’t be worth paying him to do nothing while he rehabbed.

I texted him sorry this morning, I always do. I had nothing to do with his knee, and he tells me that too. But just me being here, and him being back home, just makes me feel guilty. It doesn’t feel right.

I remember those long bus rides through the forest and mountains. Always talking about ‘making it‘, and how to ‘make it‘, and what it would be like if we ‘made it‘. Sometimes we tried too hard to ‘make it‘, and let the pressure get to us.

Almost all the guys took something at some point. I’m not even sure what was clean and what wasn’t. But almost everybody took something. Some guys, it clearly helped, some guys-nothing. Guess, it depends on what you took.

I eased into it, I took a cream Fernando was using too. He even showed me how to put it on. I had no idea what I was doing. Fernando was my roommate, and one night after a double-header we were somewhere in the Carolinas, in a run-down Super 8. He pulled a tube out of his duffel bag, and started rubbing the cream all over his arms. Then he looked at me, and asked if I wanted some, just like the anti-drug commercials from ten years ago. First, I asked what it was, he didn’t answer, just said it will make me a better ball player. So, I said yes. I wanted to be better.

I was so scared when Fernando got popped for 50 games. I thought surely I’ll be next, you never know when you have to test though. It’s all random, sometimes you can get a heads up it’s coming, but its usually not enough time to prepare for it.

Those 50 games really messed Fernando up. He got passed by a lot guys in the system. He was too scared to use anything again, then he lost all his confidence when he finally came back. After that year, he bounced around with a few other teams, then fell off the map a few years ago. He’s working at the camps in Santo Domingo now.

Fernando gives me hard time about it, playfully though. Every time I hit a home-run, I know I’ll get a message from him. He says he’s still playing in las grandes ligas through me, so I have to keep it up. I still feel bad for him, he’s good about it, makes it easier. He should still be here though.

I’ve caught every break to get here. Everyone has to, to get here. But I caught every break every time, and then I was lucky, on top of that.

The luckiest, was a July game somewhere in Tennessee. The week before I had just taken some stuff, and I had to test. I just knew this was the end. I wasn’t gonna ‘make it‘, I was already thinking about Santo Domingo. I’m done peeing into the cup, just staring at it, watching my career go down the drain.

The guy knocks on the door, asks if I was Oscar, I said, no, I’m Ruben. He told me to dump out my pee, it wasn’t my turn. To this day Oscar kids me about that. He tells me to keep my pee to myself and jokes like that. Oscar ‘made it‘, I think he’s clean. Who knows though, he probably takes something.

Its risky to takes the stuff, but its also risky not to. Our families are counting on us to ‘make it‘.

I signed for $35,000, which is more than other guys, and a lot less than others too. As a teenager, from a poor country, all that money goes to the family, and when you have four brothers and five sisters, like my family, that money goes fast.

After that money is gone, we play for less money than what we could make at Taco Bell. I loved it, no better job than playing baseball. But like I said, all the outside stuff, it just drains you. The pressure to make it, get a big contract, it takes the fun out of the game.

My whole time in the minors, five, six years, only three guys I played with got caught. I remember the coaches always giving us long speeches about not taking anything, staying clean, and doing it the right way. It kept everyone in line for about a week, then everything went back to normal.

The team interpreter in AA, Marco, he was the one who taught me the most about… fine, I’ll say it… cheating. He taught me how to cheat and not get caught. He gave me the heads up, when to use the stuff, how to use the stuff, when the tests were coming.

AA was when my career started taking off. I hit .321, and smashed 24 home-runs, up from six the year before in high-A. I was noticeably bigger, gained 20 pounds of muscle. The guys knew what was going  on, we all saw it happen again and again, this time it was happening to me.

From that point I was always in the top five prospects for the team, only one guy ahead of me was an outfielder, Jake Hinges. He was 23 and just graduated from UCLA a year or two before that, he was in AAA.

Man, I was always so lucky.

I remember when I got called into Coach Garner’s office, he told me I was going to AAA. It was my 21st birthday, one step away. Coach Garner said Hinges broke his wrist diving for a ball the night before, and that since I was tearing up AA, they thought I was ready for AAA.

He didn’t know it was my birthday, if he had he known, they probably wouldn’t have called me up. Baseball is weird that way, they don’t want to be too nice, to keep you on your toes, I guess.

The stadiums were bigger in AAA, than AA. Better everything really, I couldn’t wait for the grandes ligas. Honestly I was happy with AAA, I know nobody says it, but I really enjoyed my time in AAA. Everybody hated AAA, they all wanted to ‘make it‘, and they were all so close. And the other half just wanted to get back, and felt that they were mistreated to even be sent to AAA.

For whatever reason, I never felt that pressure at AAA to make it. I just assumed I would continue jumping levels and that I would get there soon, which I did. I enjoyed AAA, because I never felt the pressure. I just kept doing what Marco taught me, because it worked.

I was in AAA for the final month that year, then most of the next season. I hit a total of 23 home-runs in my time in AAA. I was the team’s number two prospect when I got called up.

I heard from everybody that day. We all compete for the same spots on these teams, and I finally got one in las grandes ligas. Everybody was truly happy for me. We all know how many don’t make it, or just miss it. Sometimes it feels like we are all just one team.

I was a September call-up, but the team would have called me up sooner if they had a spot for me in the outfield. Lance Holliday was a free agent after the season, and they expected me to replace him the next season. They told me this too, made me feel important that was apart of a plan.

I played for five, six years in the minors and only spoke to the big guys once or twice, and it was never about anything important, and now all of a sudden I’m apart of the future plans. Things happen faster the closer you get to las grandes ligas. You’re just one injury, failed test, or slump away from ‘making it’ or falling off the map.

When I was in the minors, it was cool, we were all fighting together. I enjoyed that chase, but when I caught it, and made it, it all ended. All of a sudden I was one of them, major leaguers, and they were one of those, minor leaguers. I don’t like that, never have. It’s not the same chase in the las grandes ligas. The chase we are after up here is the contract, it’s like the lottery. Sure, we all want to win the World Series, but everything is really focused on signing that contract.

I didn’t have an agent when I signed at age 16. I didn’t really have an agent until I made it, which was when I started making real money. Minor leaguers who have agents, are either the top picks, or top signings internationally. Everyone else is only needs an agent to help them find work in the off-season, we don’t make enough money for the agent to get a cut.

Every year just happened in las grandes ligas, it almost seemed too easy. I hit like the team wanted me to, and I got paid a lot more than I did in the minors.  My first three seasons I made like half a million each season. Then these arbitration years came. I stayed out of it, until Josh, my agent called and said they wanted to do an extension. That got my attention. I’m 26 now, signed a 5 year deal for $42 million, my deal covered the last two of my arbitration years. I didn’t like that process anyways. The deal has an option for a sixth year if I play enough games, that would bring the deal to 6 years $58 million.

Today is the press conference. I couldn’t sleep last night. I’ve been daydreaming in my Hummer, in the tunnel under the ball field, an hour before my press conference to announce my new deal. Since Josh called I couldn’t stop thinking of everyone that didn’t make it to this point. Not many guys hit the lottery. I’m probably the worst player to ever get this far, I’ve caught every single break. There’s a lot of other players more deserving than me, like Rodrigo, Fernando and half the guys I played with.

But here I am getting this huge payday. I know it wouldn’t work, but sometimes I feel like we should all share the contracts back in the Dominican, that would be fair. It will never feel right, that I’m here and they’re back home barely getting by.

It’s great I got this deal, but now I gotta live up to it. I can’t get injured, have a slump, or … fail a test. That’s what I really hate about this. Now I’m going to be scared to take anything, nobody wants to get caught right after signing a big deal. That’s why I think a bunch of guys have bad years after a contract, because they are too scared to use stuff again.

I’m not sure what I will do. They can’t take my contract away from me if I fail a test. So now I’m stuck, I fail a test- I’ll let them down. If I don’t use anything, I’ll probably be the worst guy on the team, and that will let the team down.

One of the clubbies knocks on my window, tells me its time to go to the Big Money Room. That’s what the guys call it, all the big money deals are announced in there- free agents, trades and signings. I want to tell everyone, I’m not this good, that I’ll probably won’t be worth $40,50 million. I want to tell them I am a cheater, and that I would have never ‘made it’ without cheating.

But I can’t, everybody is counting on me to live someone else’s dream. 

Dan Allsup is a staff writer for Shutdown Inning. You can reach him on Twitter @DanAllsup, or email him at
Dan Allsup

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