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'Holding an ace' and 'The last play'
Here's the transcript from Show 137 of weekly Outside The Lines - 'Holding an ace' and 'The last play'
ANNOUNCER: November 10, 2002.
BOB LEY, HOST: Major league hitters could not touch him.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Struck him out! That's 10 for Contreras!
TOMMY LASORDA, DODGERS VICE PRESIDENT: He can pitch right now in the major leagues with a great deal of success.
LEY: But Jose Contreras was a Cuban hero and a good communist.
JOSE CONTRERAS, CUBAN PITCHER (through translator): I've been world champion, thanks to the revolution. That's why I'm here. I owe this.
LEY: But the lure of major league competition and money led him to escape Castro's island, perhaps the best player ever to defect.
JAIME TORRES, CONTRERAS' AGENT: Jose's probably one of the last ones that I would have expected to defect, honestly.
LEY: Today the firsthand account of his escape and the scramble to sign him.
Also this week, a heart-warming moment for a mentally handicapped youngster.
DEREK DEWITT, WAVERLY H.S. HEAD FOOTBALL COACH: I said, "I'm going to talk to my defense and give him the ball and let him score."
LEY: But was it the right thing to do?
Today on OUTSIDE THE LINES: Questions surround this last play. And which major league team will end up holding this ace?
Just months ago, Jose Contreras sat for our cameras and swore his undying loyalty to the Cuban revolution and what Castro's communism meant to his successful baseball career. Today he is in Miami with an agent, and major league teams are watching him very closely. That is because Jose Contreras may be a better pitcher than Levon Hernandez or his cousin, Orlando Hernandez, "El Duque."
Contreras may be the best Cuban player out of the more than 50 who have defected in the past 11 years. He's a 30-year-old right-hander with 98-mile-an-hour power. Now, tomorrow is the deadline for current major leaguers who are eligible to declare their free agency. As ESPN.com's Tom Farrey reports, Contreras is hoping to take a lucrative free agent route himself to make the mega-millions that would separate him from his days as a Cuban national hero.
TOM FARREY, ESPN CORRESPONDENT: It is March, 1999. A major league team is in Cuba for the first time since Fidel Castro's rise to power. An historic exhibition between the Baltimore Orioles and a Cuban all-star team turns into a showcase for pitcher Jose Contreras.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Slider! And he struck him out!
Strike three called!
FARREY: In eight innings, Contreras strikes out 10 Orioles. He allows no runs and just two hits.
MIKE BORDICK, PLAYED AGAINST CONTRERAS IN '99 EXHIBITION: Instead of just throwing his fastball, he's setting up pitches, knocking major league hitters off the plate, setting up his slider away and just obviously having great knowledge. You know, guys saying, alright, you know, you got to be ready for this guy. He really reminded me of a major league pitcher. That's for sure.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Struck him out!
FARREY: Major league scouts had the same idea. But Contreras seemed to have little interest in leaving his country.
JOSE CONTRERAS, CUBAN PITCHER (through translator): I think I have an infinite number of reasons to keep playing here in Cuba.
FARREY: Contreras spoke with ESPN last year in his home province of Pinar Del Rio, a tobacco region two hours west of Havana. In Pinar, the people are especially poor, but their support for Castro remains strong. And he rewards them with big-time baseball.
CONTRERAS: My father's a farmer. I come from a humble family. I think I owe this. I owe this to the revolution. It's helped me. I've been world champion, Olympic champion, Central American champion thanks to the revolution. That's why I'm here. I owe this.
FARREY: The same day we spoke with Contreras, he pitched in the finals of the National Series, the Cuban version of the World Series, only more down to earth. Lines are chalked by hand. Children shag balls during batting practice. Tickets go for five cents, affordable to almost anyone.
Each team is made up of players from their home province. Unlike players in the U.S., Contreras knew he'd never be traded.
CONTRERAS: Besides the roots I've put down in this country, I won't let anyone treat me like a piece of merchandise, something they can buy today and sell to someone else tomorrow.
FARREY: A year-and-a-half later, everything had changed. Jose Contreras had defected. Contreras now says he wasn't telling the truth last year when he said he had no interest in becoming a major leaguer.
CONTRERAS: OK, it's not really like that. But you must understand that in Cuba, there are some things that you cannot say because you'll get in trouble. I always wanted to play baseball professionally, but I had all my family there, and I think that family is the most important.
PETER BJARKMAN, AUTHOR, "SMOKE: THE ROMANCE AND LORE OF CUBAN BASEBALL": He was also a model citizen, considered to be very loyal to Cuban baseball, very loyal to the revolution. And he was very much a hero here.
FARREY: Historian Peter Bjarkman is an expert on Cuban baseball and a frequent visitor to the island.
BJARKMAN: The great majority of players are very loyal to the system here. I think the players in the Cuban League realize that the opportunities they've had, the training they've had, the ability to move to the top levels has come through the system that they were part of.
CONTRERAS: Each of the top athletes has a pretty close relationship with Fidel because, of course, sports are loved by the people in Cuba, especially baseball. Since I was lucky enough to pitch in the decisive games for our team the last five years, in every game that meant something, I got somewhat close to Fidel.
FARREY: Castro was there when Contreras dutifully brought glory to Cuban baseball against the Orioles, but it was also that day when the seeds of Contreras' defection may have been sown.
CONTRERAS: For 40 years, the Cuban team had never competed with major league baseball, and it was always that question: Can we play with these guys? That day showed me I can pitch with them. It gave me the confidence.
FARREY: Baseball agents have long exuded confidence in Cuban talent. In fact, a half dozen agents trail the national team all over the world, hoping to attract clients. Jaime Torres has been at it for a decade, and Contreras is the first player whose defection he helped orchestrate.
JAIME TORRES, CONTRERAS' AGENT: Jose is probably one of the last ones that I would have expected to defect, honestly.
TORRES: He's very quiet. You could sense that he -- not that he was happy because very few of them are happy, honestly. He came across to me -- incorrectly now, I realize -- for someone to have accepted his fate within the Cuban national team.
FARREY: Contreras was torn. He dreamed of pitching in the major leagues, but it was only a dream. Then at a tournament in Mexico last month, Cuban security left him alone in his hotel room.
CONTRERAS: That day we had a game with Guatemala. But when I woke up in the morning, my waist was bothering me, so the trainers told me to stay in the hotel, that I wasn't needed at the game. When I found myself alone in the hotel, I said, "OK, I think this is my chance." I called Jaime from the hotel, and that's how everything started. Until that moment in Mexico, I never once thought about leaving my team.
FARREY: Contreras knew the risks. Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, now with the New York Yankees, had once been suspected of planning to defect and was banned from Cuban baseball. If caught, the same could happen to Contreras. To avoid detection, he and Torres, the agent, arranged to meet at Mexico's Monterrey Airport. Already nervous, Contreras was terrified when he saw who was with Torres. It was Miguel Valdes, the general manager and a coach of the Cuban national team.
TORRES: It was his boss. I mean, the guy that has been running baseball in Cuba for a long time. I'm pretty sure that at that moment, the first thing that -- that Jose probably thought was that this was a set-up.
CONTRERAS: I told myself, "Oh, no! They might have set a trap for me."
FARREY: But Miguel Valdes was no spy for Cuban security. The legendary coach with 13 world championships was defecting, too, unaware that Contreras was also coming.
MIGUEL VALDES, FORMER COACH, CUBAN NATIONAL TEAM (through translator): I didn't know what he was doing there, but then your mind works very quickly. I realized that we were so far away from where we were supposed to be that the only possible explanation was that Jose was there to meet the agent.
FARREY: Jaime Torres hadn't told Valdes or Contreras what the other was up to, in case something went wrong. But once the star pitcher and coach were at the airport, they flew to Tijuana, where U.S. border officials allowed them into the country. Major league teams reacted even before Contreras surfaced a week later in Miami.
TORRES: Well, I've been receiving a lot of phone calls. I have not received calls from all 30 organizations, but I received quite a lot of them, a lot more than what I expected so soon.
TOMMY LASORDA, DODGERS VICE PRESIDENT: He's a class pitcher. He's polished.
FARREY: Tommy Lasorda coached the U.S. team in the 2000 Olympics, upsetting Cuba for the gold medal. But Contreras didn't pitch that day, after beating Japan in the semis.
LASORDA: He knows how to pitch. He can pitch right now in the major leagues with a great deal of success.
VALDES (through translator): I would compare him to the best pitchers you have, with Randy Johnson, with Curt Schilling, with those players. Contreras is at that level.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: One and two the count. Struck him out!
FARREY: But even if wealth and stardom lie ahead, Contreras says he'll remain loyal to those he left behind.
CONTRERAS: My parents, my friends and my teammates, maybe some of them will say I betrayed them. But they know me, and they should not take me as a traitor but as someone who took the opportunity to play baseball at another level. Any time I go out onto the field here, it will be for my friends, myself and the Cuban people.
LEY: Tom Farrey's report.
Central to the major league future of Jose Contreras is whether he's placed in the amateur draft next June or declared a free agent. Players residing in the United States are drafted, while international players from the Caribbean or Central America or Asia are signed as free agents. International players, that is, except for Cubans, who are treated as a special case by major league baseball. Commissioner Bud Selig explains.
BUD SELIG, MLB COMMISSIONER: Obviously, in the Dominican situation, or in Japan, those are -- that's a situation that -- where the country is happy to let them go. And obviously, we're happy to have them. Cuba has been a difficult situation. I'm going to have to let the people in Washington solve that problem.
LEY: Selig is referring, of course, to the long-standing U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba. Many defecting Cuban players have avoided the draft and become more lucrative free agents by acquiring residency in a third nation, such as the Dominican Republic. For a player of Contreras's abilities, the difference between being drafted or signed as a free agent could be $10 million. Contreras is seeking residency outside the United States, but baseball -- major league baseball -- is increasingly skeptical of such arrangements.
Joining us this morning to discuss Contreras and his future is Joe Kehoskie. He is a baseball agent who has worked with Cuban players, and he joins us this morning from Syracuse.
Good morning, Joe. Take apart Jose's game. How good a pitcher is this man?
JOE KEHOSKIE, AGENT: Jose Contreras is outstanding. He is an instant number one, at worst number two starter on any team in the major leagues.
LEY: We say he's 30. Is he truly 30? We know all the issues about ages and Latino players. Is he truly 30, do you believe?
KEHOSKIE: I believe he is. I believe he is. He's pitched so much internationally, it'd be difficult for him to hide any sort of age gap.
LEY: I was going to say Peter Gammons has told us the usual suspects are lining up, the large-revenue clubs, like the Red Sox, the Yankees, the Mets, the O's, the Rangers, the Dodgers, the Giants. Are these teams lining up to sign somebody that they see starting next April?
KEHOSKIE: Oh, absolutely. I don't think there's any chance that Jose would see the minor leagues. He would instantly -- especially if he sees a full spring training, I think he goes straight to the big leagues.
LEY: We talked about the difference between being drafted and being a free agent. If he is to become a free agent, how large -- and you have a sense of the market. Of course, we're in the new age of salary -- not caps but curbs on spending in baseball, with the luxury tax. How large a contract might he get?
KEHOSKIE: Oh, I think your $10 million difference that you just referred to is very conservative. I think Jose on the open market is easily an $8 million to $10 million-a-year pitcher. If he was to be drafted, I would see him signing maybe a $5 million contract. As a third-country free agent, perhaps as much as $30 million to $50 million.
LEY: You talk about a third-country free agent. Now, you have gone down this route before. You've challenged major league baseball on some issues relating to this. Talk about how authentic some of these third-country residencies are and how easy or difficult they are to get.
KEHOSKIE: Oh, they're very difficult to get. I mean, countries don't just pass out residence papers to whoever shows up. On the other hand, for the most part, I'm not really aware of any wholesale fraud. I mean, obviously, you'd show up in a third country, it can be difficult going through the process. Baseball doesn't like the process, so they're very leery of it. However, baseball really -- they take on kind of an INS role in verifying players' residency and immigration paperwork, but they really have no authority to do so, and that's caused some problems with players in the past.
LEY: Well, he's looking -- Contreras is -- at the Dominican Republic and we understand several other countries in the Caribbean and Central America. What's your gut tell you? What are the chances that if he were to get the paperwork, baseball would accept it?
KEHOSKIE: I'm not really sure. I mean, I've gone down that road before. The very last time that I got -- that I obtained third-country residency for a player -- or actually, for two players -- major league baseball stepped in and didn't accept the paperwork. They said they couldn't verify the papers. I'm not really sure what authority they had to go into the Dominican Republic and ask for confidential immigration information. And I'm sure people around baseball are very hopeful that Contreras becomes subject to the draft, both -- obviously, you understand the issues around baseball right now...
LEY: And it can save a lot of money, obviously.
KEHOSKIE: ... around Tampa Bay...
KEHOSKIE: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And shuttle a number one starter to a smaller-market club.
LEY: All right, Joe Kehoskie, thanks a great deal for joining us this morning.
By the way, Tom Farrey will have more on Jose Contreras, his defection and his fight to become a free agent. Look for that tomorrow when you log onto ESPN.com.
Next up: a simple touchdown scored with the best of intentions to give a mentally challenged youngster a moment to remember.
DAVE FRANZ, NORTHWEST H.S. HEAD FOOTBALL COACH: And I said and he said, 'No, coach. We want him to score.' Then the official comes to me and says, 'Coach, they want him to score, and we understand.' And their whole sideline's going, Score! Score! And he just takes off, and he was sprinting like crazy.
LEY: Meet Jake Porter. He has fragile X syndrome, which in his case has caused severe mental impairment. He attends high school in the southern Ohio town of McDermott, and the story of his moment in the spotlight is heartwarming. But there are some delicate questions to be asked.
Jake has practiced with the football team for several years, and two weeks ago, in his team's final home game, Jake was put into the game. The outcome was long decided. Jake's coach approached the opposing coach, and the opposing coach remembers that conversation on the field.
DEREK DEWITT, WAVERLY H.S. HEAD FOOTBALL COACH: He said, 'Coach, I want to get him in. We want him to touch the ball.' He said, 'you know, remember, we talked about it.' I said, 'yes, Coach.' I said, 'No.' I said, 'that's fine. No problem.' And I turned around. I said, 'Coach, I've thought about what you said, touch the ball. I said, touching the ball is not good enough.'
And I went over, and then I called a time out. And I said, 'Coach, no.' I said, 'We're going to let him score.' He said, 'No, coach. I don't want to do that. You have a shut-out. You know, don't -- you know, and he'd just be -- he'll be fine with just taking a knee.' I said, 'no, that's not good enough.' I said, I'm going to talk to my defense and give him the ball and let him score.
DAVE FRANZ, NORTHWEST H.S. HEAD FOOTBALL COACH: So the excitement was great, and I turned around and, you know, I handed Jake the ball. He about takes the knee. And we're all saying, No, no, no, you know? Stands back up, walks up to the line of scrimmage, turns back around, walks to the huddle. The official, everybody's pointing, you know, The other way! And he just takes off, and he was sprinting like crazy.
LEY: Players from both sidelines were cheering him on, as were all the fans. Jake Porter, who had taken a knee in a game several years ago, scored a touchdown and acted like he had been in the end zone before.
It was an undeniable feel-good moment, but as I have noted, some delicate questions have been raised. Dr. Rick Rader is editor-in-chief of "Exceptional Parent" magazine and the director of the Morton Kent Habilitation Center. He joins us from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Jim Santos directs the Run Pass and Jump program, which allows exceptional and mainstream youngsters to compete together in sports. He is the father of a developmentally disabled son. And he joins us this morning from Fresno, California.
Good morning to you both.
DR. RICK RADER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "EXCEPTIONAL PARENT" MAGAZINE: Good morning.
JIM SANTOS, RUNS SPORTS PROGRAM THAT INCLUDES HANDICAPPED CHILDREN: Good morning.
LEY: Dr. Rader, let me begin with you. You believe unequivocally this was the right thing to do, this feel-good moment. Why do you feel that way?
RADER: Well, you know, this is beyond developmental disabilities. And Billy Joel probably had the best words when he said, "Leave a tender moment alone." But this is about sport. This is about being part of a team. This is about celebrating somebody and supporting somebody. Whereas Jake had fragile X, I played college football, and I had NET syndrome, which is not enough talent. And I sat on the bench for four years, you know, playing the last play, like Jake, except I think the score was 52 to nothing before they sent me in.
LEY: Well, Jim, I mentioned some delicate questions. We might appear like the Grinch in just raising them, but you do have a developmentally disabled son. Why do you believe that this may not have been the best thing to do?
SANTOS: You know, it's hard to criticize the two coaches and the kids back in Ohio for what they've done. And you know, it's difficult to sit here and say that I don't agree with them, but I don't agree with them. I have my own son, and parents like myself spend a lifetime trying to celebrate the achievements of our kids. And the teachers in their schools and the coaches in Special Olympics, all the people who are involved with special needs children are looking for that one moment where there's some achievement.
To give an achievement which is not true is not what parents want. To have a child singled out because it's a special needs kid and to let him achieve something that really he didn't earn, that's not what we're after. So as parents, we're looking for that one moment, even when that coach put that -- when Jake got in the game, to me that would have been a crowning point of a season for me, and my wife, I'm sure. But not to let him score. That's just not what the game is all about.
Even though I know that goes against popular belief, as parents, I think you'll find that a lot of them are in agreement with me. They just want to see their kids achieve and have an opportunity to achieve and not be given something.
LEY: Well, before -- Dr. Rader, I know you want to respond. Let me for you, if I can, Jim, play a piece of tape from Dave Franz, who is Jake's coach. He got a number of phone calls from parents such as yourself from around the country, and he relates some of them to us.
FRANZ: A parent called me from St. Paul. I think it was Minnesota. And one from Phoenix, Arizona, that was crying on the phone, just saying, "Thank you" because, hopefully, this will help their kids. And that's when it really hit me that maybe this is -- you know, this is pretty big. So that -- those were the ones I will treasure forever, were the phone calls from those parents.
LEY: Dave Franz talking with Chris Connolly.
Jim, what would you say to a parent who placed such a phone call?
SANTOS: You know, I wouldn't say anything because I know exactly how that parent feels. I mean, we go through this every day, whether it's having your son go to work and catch the bus on his own, ride the Metro on his own. All of these achievements are small achievements. That coach back in Ohio that let Jake play on the team, be a manager on the team, put him in the game -- those are all wonderful opportunities. And there's no way that I'm going to say that parent is wrong in not feeling that way.
But for the other side, a parent like myself, I don't agree with that. I want my son to earn everything that the school gives him, as far as opportunities are concerned. That coach -- did he do the right thing? Not in my opinion. Did he do a nice thing? Of course he did a nice thing.
RADER: You know, I don't think that we can look at this in isolation that just Jake alone. There are a hundred other players on both teams, and statistically, part of them wore glasses, some of them stuttered, some of them were shy, some of them were obese. Certainly, the majority of them probably couldn't get a date with the hottest cheerleader that night. And certainly, one third, you know, suffered from sub-optimal play skills and sat on the bench.
And I think it was terribly appropriate. I think it was just beyond humanity. I think it was the right thing to do. I think that there's nothing special about special needs. There's nothing special about Special Olympics or special ed, except perhaps in the way those needs are addressed and delivered. We all have a need to be challenged and connected and validated and supported. And that's exactly what happened at that football field that day.
SANTOS: Boy, I'll tell you, Rick, if you say there's nothing special about special needs children, then you don't live in the real world because I've lived in that world for 28 years. It's a 7/24 world. It's different, and it is special. And...
RADER: I'm not talking about the challenges. I'm talking about the common human needs that are shared not only by kids with special needs but mainstream kids, too. And those are the...
SANTOS: Rick, he got all of those from his teammates all during the year. If he was on the school bus with those kids, he was inclusive. It was a terrific opportunity for him. His teachers, I'm sure, made him part of their school system. The kids made him part of the school system. You're talking about one moment. Again, it's a good moment. It's a warm, fuzzy moment. But for a parent like myself, that's not the moment that I'm after.
RADER: Well, you know, I think we also have to give a certain validation to his coach, who also happens to be a special ed teacher. And I think I'm -- and I'm not suggesting that this should be done for every single kid with a genetic disorder, but you know, for Jake, maybe person-centered planning worked at that point in time.
So I want to give Dave Franz the benefit of the doubt that he knew that this was an appropriate thing not only for him but for Jake and for the people in the stands, too. The take-home messages were tremendous. And what's the message for his brother, Seth, who's 12 years old and also has fragile X? I think the message to him is that if I work hard and I'm committed that people are going to support me. And hopefully, I can do the same thing.
LEY: Jim, to you. What is the -- well, let me ask you, Jim -- we're less than a minute here -- what your take-home message would be from this entire affair?
SANTOS: Well, for the whole thing, for the coach and for Jake, it was a wonderful opportunity to say, OK, look, we're on the football team, and we're going to do this nice thing. He's been with us. The coach did a nice thing. There's no question about that. But for Jake, to let him shine because he's developmentally disabled, because of that one situation, I don't think that was the right thing to do.
LEY: All right, gentlemen, we're going to leave it there. It was undeniably a feel-good moment and some delicate questions, and I appreciate you both discussing it with us. Dr. Rick Rader and Jim Santos, thank you. Thanks for joining us this morning.
And a reminder that tonight on "SportsCenter" following the Dolphins and the Jets about 11:00 Eastern, Chris Connolly will have more on Jake Porter, his touchdown and what it meant to everyone involved.
Coming up next, an update on last week's look at identity theft when we continue.
LEY: An update now on last week's look at identity theft. Friday, the man convicted of stealing the identity of five people, including former Mets co-owner Nelson Doubleday, was sentenced in a Florida federal court. Jeffrey C. Gruber was sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison and ordered to repay over a quarter million dollars to his victims.
Outside The Lines is online at ESPN.com, key word OTLWeekly. Check out our library of transcriptions of all our Sunday morning programs. And we look forward to your e-mails on Jose Contreras and "The Last Play." And our e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for being in touch.
LEY: "SportsCenter" is back in 30 minutes. We'll have the brand-new Top 10 and all the impact on the BCS and also look at how one can stop Mike Vick and "Hank's Picks," as well.
Time now to send you to the ESPN zone in the heart of Times Square. It's time for John Saunders and "The Sports Reporters."