McCollough: Baseball Republic: Inside the Dominican machine

From J. Brady McCollough at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on September 15, 2015:

The search for the island’s next great ballplayer stops in the heart of this sprawling city, amid the steamy, manic buzz of a Friday rush hour.

Five sun-cooked men, three wearing black and gold Pirates caps, hop out of a dirt-sprayed SUV and walk onto the patchy field contained within the expanse of Centro Olympico, built in the 1970s to house and hone the potential of the Dominican athlete. All eyes are fixed on them. Their presence means something good may be on the horizon, and that’s especially true today, with Rene Gayo the leader of the pack. He’s the dream maker, and he’s here to see if he can recreate some history.

The man in charge of this exhibition — a routine display of the island’s most precious commodity — steps forward to greet Gayo and his fellow scouts with a strategic nod to the past.

“This,” Ramon Genao says, “is where I made Starling Marte a star.”

Genao, known as “Papiro” to all, is a salesman. His wares are teenage baseball players. He finds them, or they are brought to him, to be sold to Major League Baseball franchises, ideally when they turn 16. Marte, now the starting left fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was 18 when Papiro got a hold of him — far too old for today’s standards — but the difference between then and now hasn’t stopped Papiro from turning Marte into an emblem of what can happen when a parent is wise enough to choose Papiro over the other buscones.

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Originally published: September 15, 2015. Last Updated: September 15, 2015.