MLB teams prepare Latino rookies for Arizona law - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

MLB teams prepare Latino rookies for Arizona law

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PHOENIX (AP) — Dozens of these young Latino men have crossed the border into Arizona. Some are just teenagers, some are in the United States for the first time. Many don't speak English.

Illegal immigrant fighter sheriff Joe Arpaio need not be concerned. They already have all the paperwork an immigrant — and baseball player — could want.

The Arizona Rookie League starts Monday, with some 150 or so prospects from Latin America taking part. Unless a court decides otherwise, the state's much-debated immigration law will take effect on July 29. The season ends a month later.

The Cleveland Indians have taken extra precautions to be sure their young Latin players aren't caught unaware and unprepared.

"We held a seminar under the direction of our cultural development director, Lino Diaz," said Ross Atkins, the Indians' player development director. "We brought in a local police officer to explain the situation and issued each player an ID card so they don't have to rely on carrying around their visas and paperwork with them."

The Milwaukee Brewers believe they are ready for the law, having issued identification cards to their players for the past three years. Each card has the player's photo and information on how to contact Brewers officials if authorities question why the player is in Arizona.

"It's a preventative measure," assistant general manager Gord Ash said. "We haven't had any problems so far."

The Brewers started the program because they were staying in a crime-plagued part of south Phoenix. The club has since moved to a hotel near the Glendale entertainment district but still issues the cards.

The Dominican Republic, as evidenced by big league rosters, is fertile ground for prospects. According to baseballreference.com, 503 Dominicans either have played or are playing in the majors, including Arizona Diamondbacks pitchers Esmerling Vasquez and infielder Tony Abreu.

For Dominican players today, the Arizona Rookie League is often the first step into the pro game.

The preliminary roster of the San Diego Padres includes 10 players from the Dominican Republic and one apiece from Colombia and Mexico. Their ages range from 19 to 21.

This is where concern about the new immigration law comes in.

The statute requires police, while enforcing other laws, to ask about a person's immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally. A young Latin player who speaks no English might fit that description.

The law ignited protests around the country, including some at Arizona Diamondbacks road games, by those who feel it encourages racial profiling by unfairly targeting Hispanics.

The singing duo of Daryl Hall and John Oates recently canceled a scheduled appearance following a Diamondbacks game to protest the immigration law. There were calls to pull next year's All-Star Game out of Phoenix, but commissioner Bud Selig said play on.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the bill into law, said the state had to do something about illegal immigration because the federal government wasn't.

Polls have shown wide support for the law in Arizona and around the country, but at least half-dozen lawsuits have been filed challenging it. The U.S. government may file one, too, so it's uncertain whether the law will take effect as scheduled.

Some team officials said they weren't overly concerned because they don't allow players to wander far from the hotel where they are staying.

"Major League Baseball has a great relationship with local authorities," Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "... We have local police come in and talk about areas players should avoid. There's security at the hotel. You've got to go out of your way to mess up. That's not to say we don't have situations occur. But when it does happen, it's usually centered around alcohol or females."

The issue is not confined to the rookie league. The Cincinnati Reds this year became the 15th major league team to have its spring training facility in Arizona. Players are coming and going all the time, for extended spring training, rehab work or a variety of other reasons. At spring training next year, their numbers will grow to the thousands, from the big league clubs and throughout their minor league systems. A significant percentage will be from Latin America.

Many of the ballparks are at the far edges of the suburban sprawl that is greater Phoenix. The San Francisco Giants, though, play in downtown Scottsdale, within walking distance of restaurants, bars and a big shopping mall.

"We keep players pretty close to the complex, going to the hotel and mall," said Bobby Evans, the Giants' vice president of baseball operations. "Guys don't have cars or a lot of means of getting out. It's a little different now (with the new law). We haven't had any problems and we don't anticipate any. The players have been there a while now, since spring training, so since the law came out and they know about it. Our staff keeps the players apprised."

Tony Reagins, general manager of the Los Angeles Angels, said he's been around player development long enough to know that at some point, some 17- or 18- or 19-year-old will get in trouble.

"So you have to give them the proper resources and information, so that at least you can be ahead of it as opposed to trying to react to it,'" he said. "Our staff down there has done a great job of keeping our guys in line."

It's business as usual for the Angels in the rookie league — almost.

"We haven't altered the way we develop our players in any way," Reagins said. "We're still sending the same types of players to the Arizona Rookie League and into the state of Arizona, so that hasn't changed. We have just made our players aware that they should have their identification with them at all times. But other than that, we don't see any difference in how we're going to operate."

___

AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley, AP Sports Writers Colin Fly and Doug Tucker and AP freelance writer Chuck Murr contributed to this report.

 

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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