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Often hidden among the spectators are college and pro-level scouts decked out in hats and sunglasses and toting stopwatches, clipboards, and radar guns. The Miami Black Sox, currently 11-4, have lost Carlos Castillo, Bryant Perdomo, William Lavata, and Lester Contreras to the independent leagues this season.
And players such as the great Dennis Martinez, Detroit's Plácido Polanco, and Oakland's Gio González have suited up in Nica League uniforms, Rondón notes. "Plácido Polanco played here in the early '90s," Rondón says. "He was real good."
Rondón, who while he was a Dodgers broadcaster used to lunch with the incomparable L.A. Dodgers commentator Vin Scully, has plenty of stories to tell. He remembers how León, a Nica League team, was an unofficial farm team for the Miami Marlins of the Class A Florida State League in the '80s. When those Marlins, who became the Miami Miracle in 1989, needed pitchers, they would "call up" players in the Nica League or "send down" struggling players, he contends. One who played for León and the Miami Marlins was Jorge Pascual, son of Minnesota Twins star Camilo Pascual, the owner of the "most feared curve ball in the American League for 18 years," according to Red Sox legend Ted Williams.
Rondón's favorite story is when José and Ozzie Canseco came to a Nica League game in the offseason between 1988 and 1989. Ozzie was trying to become a hitter after struggling as a pitcher. José was his personal hitting coach. The night was cold, and as José signed autographs in the bleachers, Ozzie went 0 for 2. But he made the greatest catch Rondón had ever seen in the Nica League. "I don't know how he saw that ball," Rondón says. "It was an incredible catch against a player who still plays 20 years later."
Though Rondón and others say the league is meant to be recreational, it still has the power to get players into the majors. Just a few years ago, Alfredo Simón was pitching in the Nica League to prepare for the Mexican pro league. The Baltimore Orioles saw him pitch in Mexico, signed him in September 2008, and gave him a start in the Major Leagues the same year.
Simón is the rare ultimate success story, and most of the Nica League knows that. It's the fraternity that keeps them coming to a park where paracortos are shortstops, entradas are innings, and America's favorite pastime is béisbol.
After LAG's 3-2 victory over Cuba, the winning team relaxes under a shade tree. Unlike Major Leaguers, these players don't have chauffeurs or seven-figure contracts capable of curing life's ills.
"When I'm home in Miami, I go about every other Sunday to watch them play," Dennis Martinez says. "It's just a great atmosphere."