A-Rod's former trainer still banned by MLB, still training athletes
Angel Presinal admits working with Rodriguez during his time in Texas
He has been banned from the private areas of all 30 MLB stadiums since 2002
Presinal has been the most popular trainer in the Dominican Republic for decades
The picture says a thousand words -- and the inscription a handful more: A NAO, EL MEJOR ENTRENADOR DEL MUNDO. In English, "To Nao, the best trainer in the world." It is signed, ALEX RODRIGUEZ. The framed photo hangs in a tiny room off the gym where trainer Angel (Nao) Presinal diagnoses the pains and massages away the aches of many of the Dominican Republic's most famous athletes. There's another framed photo not far away, of Rodriguez, in a pink shirt and tie, with his left hand holding one of his AL MVP awards and his right arm flanked over the shoulders of Presinal.
"[Rodriguez] is a worker at an entirely different level," Presinal said in a June interview with SI. That's all he would say about Rodriguez. Ask him more about A-Rod and he might offer you a drink or comment on the weather. He will tell all about the scores of other athletes he has worked with -- from Cy Young award winner Pedro Martinez to Olympic gold medal hurdler Felix Sanchez -- whose photos cover the coral-colored walls of his gym outside Gate 3 of the Palacio de los Deportes, in Santo Domingo. He'll even talk about two-time AL MVP Juan Gonzalez, the man who entangled Presinal publicly in this whole steroid mess to begin with and whose life-size poster hangs from the ceiling in the back of the room. But bring it back to A-Rod, and Presinal mostly keeps quiet, though he admits working with Rodriguez during his time in Texas. Another client of Presinal's remembers meeting Rodriguez at Presinal's gym in 2007 while another source close to Presinal says that A-Rod and Presinal worked together as recently as last summer. For his part, last week Rodriguez refused to discuss his relationship with Presinal.
The fact that Rodriguez has a personal trainer is hardly news, but that he has worked with this trainer has sparked the interest of Major League Baseball's Department of Investigations. MLB investigators are expected to meet with Rodriguez during spring training. Presinal, 54, once a regular in the clubhouses of the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers, has been banned from the private areas of all 30 major league stadiums since 2002. The ban stems from an Indians road trip to Toronto in October 2001, when Canadian Border Services officers seized a duffle bag stuffed with syringes and steroids at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. According to the Mitchell Report, Presinal told Canadian authorities that the bag "belonged to, and had been packed by, Gonzalez," who was then playing for Cleveland. The outfielder, however, disputed Presinal's claim. Jim Davidson, the Indians security chief, told Mitchell investigators that upon further questioning, Presinal confessed to carrying steroids for and administering them to Gonzalez. The report goes on to state that Davidson told Mitchell investigators that Presinal "claimed to have assisted several other high-profile major league players in taking steroids." In interviews with George Mitchell's staff and with SI, Presinal denied knowledge of any steroid use by Major League players.
Presinal says that what happened in Toronto made him sick, literally. "It affected me greatly. Ask my doctor," he said, pointing to Dr. Ramon Paulino, who was standing beside Presinal during his interview with SI. "My sugar shot up to 600. I wasn't diabetic. I didn't have high blood pressure, diabetes, I didn't suffer from anything." Now, he says, he fights to keep his sugar levels in check, his blood pressure down, and what's left of his reputation intact.
On this June afternoon when the lights are out at the gym and there is a brown-out all over the island to conserve electrical power, Presinal maintains that the bag wasn't his. "They investigated this to the fullest extent, all the way to the bottom," he says. "If they had found something, I wouldn't be in [training]. But it's not true. I didn't do anything."
Presinal has been the trainer in the Dominican Republic for decades. He has worked with dozens of Dominican national teams, from basketball to volleyball, many of which have participated in international competitions in which the athletes were drug tested. In 2006, four years after he was "banned" by MLB, Presinal served as the national team trainer in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, an event officially supported by Major League Baseball. "Thank God, with so many athletes -- the list is innumerable, not one positive test," says Presinal. "Is that all coincidence?" (Presinal was speaking in June, eight months before Rodriguez's positive steroid test from a 2003 sample was made public by SI.com.)
Presinal says that every athlete who comes to him is first examined by a doctor. "They figure out what the person needs, and what he doesn't need. Then they tell me if he's ready to work," he says. "If he needs vitamins, the doctor talks to the man because I don't have any. You want your athlete to produce without drugs, without anything."
"The only crime he has committed is to be prepared, to work hard and get results," says Presinal's attorney, Junior Arķas Noboa. Presinal says that it is a combination of racism and insecurity among team-employed trainers that has doomed him to baseball's black list. "In 25, 30 years of working in this business, one illicit involvement would mean that all of this would disappear," says Presinal, gesturing to the stationary bikes and weight training machines in his gym. His facility is partially subsidized by the Dominican government in exchange for his work with the national teams.
The trainer condemned by baseball is still embraced by many of the game's great players. During the summer, Presinal told SI that he was waiting to receive a work visa to come to the U.S. to train New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. In an interview with The (New York) Daily News on Friday, Cano explained his relationship with Presinal, saying, "He's great about conditioning guys. I can tell you that myself. Last year I was healthy all season. To be honest, I don't care what happened with him in the past. If I had to go back and work with him if I'm hurt, I'd go back." Last season Martinez opted to rehabilitate his balky left hamstring and his surgically repaired right shoulder under Presinal's daily supervision instead of under the eye of Mets trainers. Presinal's clients are fiercely loyal. In the middle of Presinal's interview with SI, New Orleans Hornets guard Luis Flores, who says he worked with Presinal before getting to the NBA, wandered into the gym and interjected: "He's phenomenal, the personal touch that he gives to you. It's not just that you come in and do the training. It's the months after, it helps you maintain a certain level of health through your career. He's someone you can always come back to you. If he sees you're not performing to the level you should be, he'll just show up."
Presinal's first prominent client was Martinez. "I wanted to be a mathematics professor," the trainer says, claiming he was a few credits short of completing a degree. He had been a competitive decathlete and says he missed the challenge of making a body -- not just his body -- stronger and faster. He traveled from Spain to Argentina, collecting certifications in acupuncture, massage therapy, strength and conditioning. In the late '80s he began working with Martinez, who was just beginning his career, with the Dodgers. Presinal's client list started snowballing. Soon, Gonzalez was paying him full-time -- though some athletes still do not. Says Presinal, "People think I make lots of money, but many of the players don't even pay me."
Nor do many of the clients sitting on the broken benches outside his gym. For example, on this day there is the elderly Asian man who has been waiting for hours to see Presinal, and Facundo Rodriguez, a telephone worker, who has brought his 16-year-old son, Kevin, to see him. Presinal keeps no regular office hours, and so they wait, hoping to see the trainer's dark blue truck -- a gift from Martinez, he says -- pull into the parking lot. When he arrives, in mid-afternoon, he quickly attends to them and sends them on their way, without asking for a peso. Noboa estimates that 80 percent of Presinal's work is pro-bono. When asked why he is so generous, Presinal says, "There is a poverty problem in this country. I do what I can. I just want their gratitude."
Presinal says he lives on a small stipend from the government and whatever his professional clients cough up. In a January telephone interview with SI, he said that he had come up with a new business plan: He would become a buscon, someone who trains teenage baseball prospects in exchange for a percentage of their future signing bonuses. Why enter such a speculative enterprise? Says Presinal, "There are too many people out there training who don't know what they're doing."