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"The American players have made a lot more money than I have, and I need to move up and go on top of them," Astacio says. "We have a huge competition, and the best man goes forward. I refuse to be bitter or to envy the Americans who sign richer contracts, because they are my teammates. When we're on the field, we're a team. But in the clubhouse sometimes I become angry because I feel like they think they are superior because they're from the States and I'm from the D.R., and because they signed for big money and I did not."
Several of the foreign players express resentment at the way some of their American teammates treat them. On a recent road trip an American player said to a Dominican, "You're in my seat," then told him to move to a different part of the bus. Another Dominican found his travel bag removed from the bus's luggage compartment and tossed outside because an American wanted the space for his bag. Taken individually, the incidents might seem minor, but the mistreatment takes a toll, say the Latinos.
Last summer a promising Great Falls pitcher from the Dominican Republic, Ramon Martinez, was arrested after he allegedly held a kitchen knife to the neck of the adult daughter of one of the club's host families. The woman was not injured, but prosecutors brought a felony assault charge against him.
Six weeks after the incident a bomb exploded in Mary Lynn's mailbox at around 3 a.m., sending fragments as far as 80 yards from the house. "It was like toothpicks all over the street," says Mary Lynn. The perpetrator left no note and didn't call. Perhaps the explosion was a teenage prank, but Mary Lynn believes that the act was connected to anti-Latino sentiment in that part of Great Falls. "You don't want to think that way," she says, "but the Latin players were very visible in our neighborhood."
After spending nearly eight months in jail, Martinez was acquitted at trial. Then, because his work visa had expired, he was deported. His ordeal remains a topic of discussion among the Latin players on this year's Dodgers team. Like them, he had come to the U.S. with plans to excel at baseball and to make money for his family back home. Instead he faced a nightmare. His dream was destroyed. "I say to my teammates, 'Remember Ramon,' " says Diaz, the catcher, now in his second summer in Great Falls and the established leader among the Latin players." 'Be careful with the girls. We don't want it to happen again.' "
"When we go out in this country, we must think of our families first," says Diaz. "We try to be careful and make sure nothing happens. The thing that helps calm us when we're feeling stressed is thoughts of home. We protect each other."
As for Astacio, "I've behaved like a man in Great Falls," he says. He has given his father every reason to be proud of him, working hard and staying out of trouble. When he makes it to the big leagues, he says, he will build a house for his mother, Anatasia, and one for Diomeris Rosario, his girlfriend, and their son. His sisters will never again have to worry. He will spread his good fortune among the needy of his country and make gifts of baseballs, bats and gloves to children in the streets. He will be more than a hero on the field; he will be an example of how far dreams and hard work can take a son of Latin America. Astacio calls home three days a week, always at the same time, the rare exception being those days when he plays well and feels compelled to share the news right away.
It is the top of the seventh before he's summoned to pitch against the Angels. The score is 8-1, and Provo has piled up 12 hits while Great Falls has two. By now most of the 1,900 spectators have gone home. As Astacio trots to the mound, his movements resemble those of an exotic marshland bird whose legs are too long for the rest of its body. As he warms up, it is clear that he does not have his best stuff. He throws hard but without his usual control. He hits the second batter he faces with a pitch that gets away from him. Somehow he recovers and escapes the inning without giving up a run. However, in the eighth things deteriorate further: Astacio gives up a run-scoring triple. In the ninth he hits another batter, and the batter glares at him as he walks to first base.
The Dodgers lose 9-1. In the dugout someone approaches Astacio and softly speaks to him in English. It is the American outfielder, Pierce. "Thank you for protecting me," Pierce says in his polite, humble way. "It shows character, what you did."
Astacio doesn't understand a word he's hearing, but he listens and tries to interpret Pierce's meaning from his tone and body language. Late in the game, Pierce is saying, he was intentionally hit by a pitch. "Then you hit their guy to protect me," he says to Astacio. "Clean baseball. Good, clean baseball."