ARLINGTON -- Alexi Ogando's mother, Fefa, cooked and sold food in the Dominican Republic. She did it at her house in the poor section of San Pedro de Macoris to support her son and two daughters, Deyanira and Grey Alexandria, as they grew up under difficult circumstances.It was not an easy life, but Alexi was going to take care of everything. He was going to be a star Major League outfielder, take care of his mother and pay her back for everything she had done for him. "She means everything to me. and she is everything in my life," Ogando said. "She is very special to me. My mom has always supported me and my sisters. She suffered a lot of all of us." Then came that dreadful day seven years ago when he had to give his mother terrible news. He and a number of other young players in the Dominican Republic had been caught up in a visa fraud scandal involving human trafficking and were not going to be allowed into the U.S. "It was really, really hard for me," he said. "I was supposed to be the one supporting the family. It was really, really tough. I couldn't find a way to tell her. Finally, when I came home, she looked at me and knew something was wrong. She saw my face and asked me what happened. I said, 'Later you'll find out, so I have to tell you what happened.'
"I never felt so bad. But she knew I felt bad. She said, 'You made a big mistake, whatever's done is done, we're going to keep going. Let's look for a second chance. As long as you play baseball, I'm not going to let you give up.'"It took five years for that second chance to come, but it did come, and there came a day last July when Fefa Ogando was not cooking in San Pedro de Macoris. She was riding in a truck through Phoenix streets that were lined with baseball fans. Her son was on the back of the truck during the Red Carpet Parade on his way to his first All-Star Game at Chase Field, and the fans were shouting "Ogando! Ogando!." Fefa Ogando turned to Rangers broadcaster Eleno Ornelas and said, "They know my son's name! I can't believe it. Thank you so much for talking me into coming here!" It's hard to imagine any mother more deserving to be at an All-Star Game than the one who stood by her son during his five-year banishment from the U.S. Ogando would never have made it to the Major Leagues, much less the All-Star Game, without his mother's encouragement. That is why as Mother's Day approaches, the reliever wants to take time to tell the story of how Fefa helped him through the roughest time of his life. "All of the things that I have done in my life and my career, I have done them because she gave me such great support," he said. "She was always praying for me and my sisters. All of us everywhere need to be thankful for our mothers, because they are the most special things we have in our lives." Ogando was suspended after the 2004 season, his third as an outfielder in the Athletics organization after having signed for $15,000. When the suspension came down, there was little thought it would last as long as it did. The Rangers certainly didn't think so, taking him after the 2005 season in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. Scout A.J. Preller had seen him throw from the outfield and thought he could be converted into a pitcher. The suspension was still in place, but the Rangers thought it would go away in another year. The switch to pitching would take much longer. But the suspension did not go away quickly. Ogando and 30 other young Dominican players had been caught up in a scheme to marry women for money so they could be brought illegally to the U.S. It was nothing less than human trafficking, and those caught in the middle were not going to get off lightly. One year stretched into two and beyond. Ogando was stuck in the Dominican Republic pitching in a local summer league and trying to support a family on $1,200 a month. He was ready to quit. "I was thinking of finding something else to do," he said. "I don't know what. I wanted to give my family more than what they had. I didn't care. I was going to work and keep going to school. "During those five years, it was a tough time for me and my family. But [my mother] always made me strong. She wouldn't let me quit. She said, 'God is going to take care of you and give you a second chance.'" Ogando's mother was prophetic. Through the tireless efforts of Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine and Charisse Espinosa-Dash, an attorney/agent in the Dominican Republic, Ogando finally received the news just before Spring Training in 2010 that he would be allowed to come to the States. He couldn't wait to tell his mother the news. "My joy was reflected in her face," Ogando said. "Everything we do is reflected in her face. She said, 'I knew God would give you this second chance.'" Ogando was able to get his visa by diligently participating in public-service programs directed by Espinosa-Dash, speaking to young audiences about the horrors of human trafficking, the abuse of women and the neglect of human rights. He also developed a better understanding of the mistakes he'd made. "It was something that God made happen ... to be an example for other players not to make the same mistakes," he said. "I look back, and I see I'm an example for other young players coming from the Dominican. I said, 'Thank God for giving me this second chance. I will not give it up.'" And he didn't. Five months later, Ogando called his mother from the U.S. It was late at night, and Fefa had already gone to bed. Ogando had to wait until the next morning to tell her that the Rangers had called him up to the Majors. Their long journey through darkness had come to a successful conclusion. "My first Major League game, she watched on television," Ogando said. "She doesn't know that much about baseball, but she is learning. She is liking it more and more. She told me every time I pitch, she gets so nervous, sometimes she closes her eyes so she can't watch. Now that I'm a bullpen guy again, she gets less nervous, because I'm not pitching as long. "But when something happens, like I'll get runners on first and third, she'll say, 'That's not supposed to be happening to you, you're making me nervous.'" Sorry, Mom, but that happens to Major League pitchers. They have to learn a way to pitch out of trouble. Ogando has found one simple solution. "When I get into trouble, I think of my mom and what she did for me," he said. "That's what pumps me up."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.