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Ortiz Grows Old Before Angels' Eyes

February 05, 2002|JIM BARRERO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ramon Ortiz, considered to be among the Angels' best up-and-coming young pitchers, is a little more seasoned than the club previously thought.

After encountering visa problems in his native Dominican Republic last week, it was revealed that Ortiz is three years older than he claimed.

The hard-throwing right-hander, who the team believed was going to turn 26 on March 23, actually will be 29. He provided the team with a fraudulent birth certificate when he was signed as a free agent in June 1995, Angel General Manager Bill Stoneman said.

The age on Ortiz's passport matches the age on that document, according to Stoneman.

So instead of being the youngest component in a probable opening-day starting rotation also including Aaron Sele (31), Kevin Appier (34), Jarrod Washburn (27) and Scott Schoeneweis (28), Ortiz now slips into the middle..

But Stoneman said the revelation will have no effect on how the team--or at least the front office--will treat Ortiz.

"He's going to take a lot of ribbing from his teammates, that's for sure," Stoneman said, "but in terms of how we look at him, we're a performance business, so how he does between the white lines will answer any questions from players or fans and the way he will be perceived."

The delay in processing Ortiz's visa probably won't prevent him from arriving on time when pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Tempe, Ariz., on Feb. 15, Stoneman said.

Stoneman said he found out about the problem from Pat Roache, Ortiz's Boston-based agent. He said Ortiz called Roache last week when Immigration and Naturalization Service officials at the U.S. consulate in Santo Domingo discovered that Ortiz's passport had a different birth date than his official birth certificate.

Ortiz, 13-11 with a 4.36 earned-run average last season, is still in the Dominican Republic, and could not be reached for comment. Roache, Ortiz's agent for only the last two years, did not return a telephone message.

"From what I understand, he's just going to have to get a new Dominican passport that matches what his official birth certificate says," Stoneman said.

Jose Gomez, a former Angel scout who signed Ortiz--then thought to be 19--in 1995, said he had no idea the 6-foot, 170-pound pitcher was older than reported.

"That's a surprise to me," Gomez said.

"They gave me a birth certificate, I signed it and sent it to the commissioner's office."

Gomez said Ortiz probably changed his age to make himself more attractive to major league teams.

"The American teams like players to be 17 and 18 when they're prospects," Gomez said. "A director of scouting doesn't like to sign players who are 21 or 22. Maybe that's why some Dominican players change their birth certificates."

Stoneman said the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks probably had a lot do with government officials discovering the discrepancy in Ortiz's documents.

"Prior to 9-11, this might not have been something they would have uncovered," Stoneman said. "The government is scrutinizing anyone who wants to come into the U.S. more than ever."

Stoneman said the incident won't change the way the Angels verify the ages of potential prospects from foreign countries.

Major League Baseball now has an office in Santo Domingo, which Stoneman said has helped limit the number of cases in the Dominican Republic that go unchecked.

"Players are starting to realize that if they fib about their age, they may not get away with it anymore," he said.

*

Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.

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