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There wasn't a certified athletic trainer, let alone a doctor, to evaluate Guillén at the Nationals' academy, a spartan training camp with cinder-block dorms. No one from the team accompanied him to Santo Domingo or intervened when he couldn't get into the Clínica Abreu. (The club didn't cover the costs of his treatment until after he was admitted to the Cuban-Dominican clinic.) And following Guillén's death, the club required his parents to sign a release before handing over his signing bonus and life insurance money—a document also stating that they would never sue the team or its employees.
Rafael Pérez, head of Dominican operations for Major League Baseball, said his office's role is to provide services to the clubs, not wag a regulatory finger at them: "Sometimes people have a negative reaction when things are imposed," he said. That's why the Nationals faced no sanctions, even though one of their players died of an entirely treatable illness. They had followed the rules, but those rules don't require the teams to do very much. Pérez insisted that the league has aimed to improve facilities and standards in recent years, albeit on a voluntary basis: "Some clubs are having a harder time than others. But they all have great intentions."
Jacobo claimed that he and others ushered in higher signing bonuses by developing private academies for Dominicans as young as 13 years old. The idea was to better prepare players for showcases, which then helped buscones push for more money from major league teams come negotiation time. To those who charge that buscones take too big of a cut, Jacobo said that on average he spends $10,000 on each player he trains, housing, feeding, and even clothing them until they sign. "And if he's a very special player? You might end up spending $30,000 on a guy who is not your son."
After putting in all that work, he added, he'd be damned if anyone, MLB or otherwise, was going to limit how much he earns. "I have to tell you this," Jacobo said, the sun dipping behind the seaside shops. "We don't care what price they want to put on our players. They're our players. It's going to come down to how much I want to sell them for."
(Bienvenido) Ortiz showed me the agreement Guillén's parents signed a month after the funeral, a notarized document that I photographed before handing it back. Exactly when and how Guillén became ill remains unclear to this day. But in 2011, in return for Guillén's $30,000 signing bonus, his parents agreed to the following terms:
(1) that Guillén died of bacterial meningitis, but that he'd contracted it outside of the facility and therefore it had nothing to do with the Nationals;
(2) that the team gave Guillén the appropriate treatment when he got sick;
(3) that they would never sue the team or its employees for the death of their son.
"They came here to screw us over," Ortiz said, his voice rising. "We didn't want problems—we just wanted things to be resolved."
Rafael Pérez, head of Dominican operations for Major League Baseball, said his office's role is to provide services to the clubs, not wag a regulatory finger at them:
Age 16 might not be the optimal time to sign if you're looking for big bonus money. It seems like all the really big bonuses go for power bats and power arms. Who's got power at age 16?
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