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Life With Luchy Special for Them

Guerra, a ranking Dodger official, is who players from the Dominican Republic turn to for help.

December 27, 2004|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic — It happens every time. From the moment Luchy Guerra clears customs and steps into the sunshine of her homeland, memories flip through her mind like pages in a day planner.

She remembers tending to ailing third baseman Adrian Beltre after his appendix burst, urging prized prospect Joel Guzman to fit in with less heralded teammates, and journeying to a remote corner of the country to welcome pitcher Yhency Brazoban to the Dodgers.

That's Guerra, a one-woman bienvenido wagon, the most comforting hue of Dodger blue to Latin American players.

Her official title is assistant director of minor league operations. But her contribution in 12 years with the team spills all over the map, from greeting newly signed rookies at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., to ensuring that signing bonuses for uneducated Dominican teenagers aren't cashed by unscrupulous pseudo-agents.

"Luchy is an amazing person," said Beltre, who signed with the Seattle Mariners Dec. 16 after seven years with the Dodgers. "She is always there for you, from the minor leagues to the big leagues. I went to her when I didn't understand things, and we are still close today. Luchy will always have a big place in my heart."

On a November visit to the country where she spent her first 19 years, Guerra has a different agenda than usual. She is attending the Major League Baseball Scout Development Program, an eight-day course in evaluating talent, writing scouting reports and debunking the image of tobacco-chewing men hunched over radar guns.

Some things never change, though. It's only the second day and the high-strung Guerra, 40, has a migraine headache. Not because she is apprehensive about embarking on a new career as a scout -- her enrollment is strictly to broaden her baseball knowledge for the purposes of her current job.

She is stressed because that's just the way she is.

"It's me being a perfectionist," Guerra said. "I am pretty intense about everything I do."

In the classroom she listens while instructors lecture in English and a translator repeats the lesson in Spanish for the 30 mostly Latin American students, all of whom were sent to scout school by a major league team. Guerra is the only woman.

At noon, the class boards a bus and heads for a game at Campo Las Palmas, the stunning 50-acre Dodger complex of fields, offices and living quarters carved out of the tropics. It's a second home to Guerra and she loves everyone there, but today the visit has her ulcer acting up.

"Normally I am going there to solve issues," she said. "Sometimes there are people lined down the hallway to talk to me. But this time I have to watch the game. I'm going to say I'm not wearing my problem-solving cap."

Instead, she's donned a straw hat bearing an MLB logo, just like the other scouts. But soon she is recognized and Campo Las Palmas becomes the set of "I Love Luchy."

Former Dodger infielder Mariano Duncan, in uniform after spending the morning teaching prospects the fine points of turning a double play, pays his respects, giving Guerra a hug and a peck on the cheek.

"It's comforting when she's here," Duncan said. "Problems disappear. She cares so much for these kids."

The young players dream of becoming Dodger rags-to-riches stories like Raul Mondesi, Pedro Martinez and Beltre. More than 100 major league players and about 1,450 minor leaguers are from the Dominican Republic, but the road to the top is difficult.

The Dodgers were the first team to develop Latin American talent, and the number of Dominican players under contract with the team has risen to nearly 80. Longtime player and coach Manny Mota, one of the earliest Dominicans to make the major leagues, is an on-field father figure.

Guerra is less visible but no less crucial. When Beltre's appendix burst in 2001 and he remained severely ill after spending 18 days in a Dominican hospital, she begged Dodger brass to transport the ailing player to Los Angeles.

Guerra and her husband, Jim, met Beltre at the airport, helped him into their van and whisked him to a hospital. Beltre returned the favor a couple of years ago when Guerra asked if two minor leaguers could stay at his home until their visa problems were sorted out.

"I didn't know these guys, but coming from Luchy, I would never say no," he said. "If they weren't good guys, she wouldn't have asked me."

Problem-solving takes many forms. When Brazoban was acquired from the New York Yankees in a trade a year ago, Dodger officials dispatched Guerra to find him in the tiny Dominican outpost of Palenque and ensure that his visa was in order before spring training. She had no idea how to find him until she saw a motor scooter plastered with Yankee stickers zoom past. She flagged it down and the driver knew where Brazoban lived.

"We show up, and it's siesta time, so we waited until he woke up," Guerra said. "I told him, 'The Dodgers care a lot about you.' "

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