In Latin America, baseball is the game to play. Boys as young as 4 or 5 dream about getting to the majors one day. Many young men see America's pastime as the only way to save their families from poverty. Some will go to drastic measures to get to the majors. Some will even lie.
Now, baseball players cannot lie about how well they hit, or how hard they throw, or how slick their glove is. Scouts will judge that for themselves.
But Latino baseball players will lie about their age.
An 19 year old pitcher who throws 85mph will not get much attention in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, or any other part of Latin America.
However, the pitcher can fake his age, as a 17 year old who throws 85mph is a coveted prospect.
Such was the case with Wandy Rodriguez. Rodriguez was 19 years old and threw in the mid-80s. He would have likely been looked over if he hadn't changed his identity.
So when a scout from the Astros asked what his name and age was in 1998, Rodriguez said,"My name is Eny Cabreja. I'm 17."
Rodriguez lived with those lies for four years. In 2002, he admitted to the Astros that he wasn't Eny Cabreja, he was really Wandy Rodriguez. He admitted he wasn't really 21, he was really 23.
Rodriguez was terrified that he was going to be sent home for lying. Once the Astros told him he could stay, he felt better. He didn't like cheating or lying, and that burden was now off of his shoulders.
Boys, wherever they are from, usually dream about playing professional sports. They dream about becoming rich from playing a game. I have dreamed this dream. Wandy Rodriguez dreamed this dream.
But many aspiring big leaguers in the Dominican Republic do not have advantages like youth athletes in America. In America, youth baseball players now have the advantage at playing baseball year round in state of the art training facilities. Youth ballplayers in the US can play for the most competitive AAU teams which have some of the best coaches, if they are wealthy enough.
In the Dominican, players spend much of their time playing on the sandlots when they are young. As they get older, if good enough, they may be able to attend a baseball academy run by a major league team. Then, baseball becomes less of the game they love, and more of a job. Players often suffer from homesickness and depression.
But many players will not give up. They will continue to play baseball, no matter how hard it may become. They will do whatever it takes to get to the majors, even that means they have to lie and cheat.
Rodriguez is definitely not the only person to lie about his age in order to reach Major League Baseball.
Miguel Tejada, one of the best players to play for the Baltimore Orioles this decade, has also lied about his age. In 2008, an ESPN reporter Tom Farrey, who regularly reports for the ESPN show E:60, confronted Tejada about his age. Tejada had claimed to be born in 1976 ever since he first signed a major league contract in 1993.
However, Farrey had Tejada's birth certificate, and that said otherwise. The Dominican birth certificate showed that Tejada was actually born on May 25, 1974 instead of May 25, 1976. The certificate also showed that his last name was spelled Tejeda instead of Tejada.
Tejada stormed out, ending the interview.
Now, even though many people have not lied about their age, many folks can see Rodriguez's and Tejada's reasons for doing so. They wanted to achieve their dream so they could give themselves a better life.
In essence, they were lying for a better life.