None of that mattered at Estadio Cibao, where Tejada has spent the last 14 winters. The fans pounding thundersticks at the Caribbean Series only cared that Tejada was there, playing for them. "The one thing that sets Miguel apart is the humility with which he's embraced his success," says Francisco Dominguez Brito, a Dominican senator and former attorney general. "Normally someone of his stature, with his fame and stardom, they don't come back to the Dominican Republic to play. All those young ballplayers have a lot of limitations in terms of education, and all of a sudden they find themselves with a lot of money and it makes them act out of control, but Miguel's never acted that way. He still plays in the D.R. like he's a rookie who still needs a job."
This is not the U.S., where congressional hearings and the bare-knuckled feud between Clemens and his former trainer Brian McNamee dominates the headlines. In Estadio Cibao, the myths die harder and ballplayers such as Tejada are unconditionally adored. The fans know the hardship Tejada endured growing up in the neighborhood whose very name sums up its challenges: Los Barrancones (the Obstacles). In 1979 Hurricane David, with its 150-mph winds that produced 30-foot-high waves, wiped out the Tejada home in the town of Ban� and forced the family into the slums of Los Barrancones. That's the same dirt-poor barrio to which Tejada returns every off-season to deliver food. In 2004 he donated the money to build a 3,000-seat stadium in Ban�. And one day after he buried his brother, Tejada was on the field for the Dominican Winter League championship, where the approximately 5,000 fans stood for every one of his at bats and screamed their support for the man they call El Pelotero de la Patria (the country's player).
DOMINICANS HAVE an easy explanation for their collective shrug whenever the subject of steroids arises. They argue that just as stealing bread is not a crime when a man is starving, taking performance-enhancing drugs is acceptable when a player is desperate to get off an island where the poverty rate hovers around 40%. "What's wrong [in the U.S.]," says Fernando Mateo, president of Hispanics Across America, a New York--based advocacy group that lobbies Major League Baseball on Latino issues, "isn't so wrong there."
For baseball, fighting steroid use in the Dominican Republic has been like throwing punches underwater. The island that produced nearly 12% of the major leaguers on last year's Opening Day rosters and more than 20% of the All-Star starters last July, also produced one-third of the positive drug tests in the major and minor leagues in 2007. Though the Dominican summer and winter leagues—where many of the country's top young prospects play even after they are signed by major league clubs—have tested for steroids since 2004, the country's labor laws prohibited teams from suspending players who tested positive; violators were instead referred to counseling. But after intense lobbying by Major League Baseball, the Dominican government reinterpreted its laws: Starting this summer, players who test positive will face the same escalating 50-game, 100-game and permanent suspensions doled out by MLB.
Meanwhile, Tejada, who is not known to have tested positive in the Dominican or in the U.S., refuses to discuss the Mitchell Report or the perjury investigation, on the advice of his lawyers. "I'm preoccupied with baseball," he says. "[The charges] affect me a lot, especially because what I've done is based all on hard work. I know I'm going to come out of this clean."
Astros general manager Ed Wade, who obtained Tejada from Baltimore the day before the Mitchell Report was released on Dec. 13, expresses no buyer's remorse for his high-priced ($26 million for the next two seasons) acquisition and expects him to report to spring training next week. Though Wade acknowledges that Tejada could face punishment (commissioner Bud Selig, for one, has not ruled out suspensions for players implicated in the Mitchell Report), he defends the trade, saying, "He's a middle-of-the-order power bat at a position that's normally reserved for defensive guys. We just felt that if we had the chance to put him in the lineup with Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee, and with the additions of Michael Bourn and Kaz Matsui at the top of the order, that it would make us very productive."
Wade was in the crowd for Game 2 of the Caribbean Series when Tejada sent a seventh-inning pitch over the leftfield wall for his 12th career home run in Series play, breaking the record held by Tony Armas. Tejada circled the bases quickly, pointing skyward in memory of Freddy. As he headed toward home, his entire team—and seemingly, a country—waited with open arms.