Our season profile of Venezuelans in MLB moves to the AL-East second-place New York Yankees.
Jose Vicente Campos, a young right-hander, is currently the only criollo with a chance to make last year’s AL East runners-up, the Yankees. With an aging, injury-prone pitching staff, we may yet see the 23-year-old in the Bronx this season.
Campos was born in 1992 and made his minor-league debut at the ripe old age of 17 for an affiliate of the Seattle Mariners organization, the VSL Mariners (the Venezuelan Summer League Mariners). Like many teams, the Mariners decided to forgo the fees being charged by the Venezuelan government to host training camps in the Caribbean nation, and in 2014 moved their base of operations to the more amenable (cheaper) Dominican Republic.
Although we fans moan about multimillionaire part-time players, in fact, there’s a seamy underside to the beisbol business, and it’s ongoing. A tough book on the subject called “Stealing Lives: the Globalization of Baseball and the Tragic Story of Alexis Quiroz” by Arturo Marcano Guevara (no relation to Che, we think) and David Fidler was published in 2002 by Indiana University Press. Simply put, it’s not a happy story and it sheds light on this billion-dollar entertainment/sport we support. The weak and injured get cast aside, and for every Alex Rodriguez or Miguel Cabrera, there are a hundred heartbreaks and exploitations. Most of us don’t even want to go there, but hey, I just saw a movie about Che Guevara and the situation between big business in the land of Tio Sam it its poorer Latin neighbors goes on, and on.
Jose Vicente began with a bang in single-A Everett, striking out nearly a batter an inning and hitting the mid-90s on the radar gun. He came to the Yankees in a trade for another unrealized potential great, the infamous Jesus Montero.
Yet Campos is already in a precarious position: at age 21, prior to the 2014 season, he underwent Tommy John surgery. Missed the whole year. He’s gone from a Northwest League All-Star at age 19 to the periphery of the 40-man roster for the most famous baseball team in the world, but his arm may be old already—he also pitches for the Cardenales de Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League (whom I will always love because they have a statue of Luis Sojo outside the stadium).
We hope Jose catches on with the Yankees, and gets that glorious MLB minimum salary of $507,500. Maybe he’ll graduate to a middle-inning reliever here in New York, or somewhere, and pull down a few million (before taxes and agent’s fees) in his career, however brief it may be.
But what if he doesn’t make it? What happens to a kid with little education and only the ability to throw a baseball, once that career path is taken away?
It’s something we don’t like to talk about.