L.A. Times
Thursday, September 10, 1998 
El Hombre
                Mark McGwire is the man in the United States, but in the Dominican
              Republic, Sammy Sosa is.
              By MARK FINEMAN, Times Staff Writer

                           SAN PEDRO DE MACORIS, Dominican Republic--Just
                           beyond the cracked left-field wall where Sammy Sosa hit his
                      earliest home runs, in a tattered batting cage behind fading stars that
                      read "Alou," "Marichal" and "Mota," Roberto Corporan was
                      chasing the dream that drives so many in this storied Dominican
                            Sweating rivers in the blazing sun this week, Corporan and his
                      scout were the lone figures in Alfredo Raynold Stadium, the muddy
                      and rutted field of dreams where the Chicago Cub slugger--like so
                      many others before him--first played baseball.
                            And like Sosa, who signed his first major league contract here
                      at 16, Corporan was slamming the ball through patched holes in the
                      rope-mesh cage, hoping to follow that same meteoric trajectory
                      from San Pedro's poverty to wealth, fame and legend.
                            "What have I learned from Sammy Sosa?" Corporan, 16, said
                      as he swung a battered bat on the day Mark McGwire broke
                      Roger Maris' home run record.
                            Moreno Tajeda, a local scout who hopes to sign his latest
                      prospect in the days ahead, said, "For us, Sammy Sosa is more
                      than just a hero. He's more even than an idol.
                            "Here in San Pedro de Macoris, Sammy Sosa is synonymous
                      with progress."
                            Such is the mood during these magical days of September in
                      this gritty coastal city 45 miles east of the Dominican capital, Santo
                      Domingo. The home run chase between Sosa and McGwire that
                      has so electrified the United States is playing itself out here in Sosa's
                      hometown with equal drama, grace and lessons of hope.
                            When McGwire hit his 62nd homer Tuesday night, beating
                      Sosa to history, Dominicans here cheered. When St. Louis Cardinal
                      fans stood in reverence as Sosa stepped to the plate in the
                      Cub-Cardinal matchup, his fans here nodded with gratitude and
                      shared respect. And when the two sluggers bearhugged during
                      McGwire's moment in a stadium more than 1,000 miles away, many
                      here wept.
                            "For us, Mark McGwire is a home run machine, a good man, a
                      clean man, a great man for baseball," said Luis Padilla, a merengue
                      composer who was born not far from the clapboard shack that was
                      Sosa's birthplace. "But together, Sosa and McGwire are
                      perfect--black and white, rich and poor, now together as equals in
                            "Of course, we all wish--everybody here is praying--that
                      Sammy wins the title. There are still a lot of games ahead. Besides,
                      Sammy already has proved to us and to the world that anything in
                      life is possible."
                            This town of 300,000 where Sosa, at 7, shined shoes is living
                      proof. San Pedro has produced more than a dozen major league
                      stars through the years, and it embodies this amazing summer of
                      limitless dreams and the ever-expanding boundaries of possibility.
                            Just ask Jesus Nolasco, who scrapes a living shining shoes in
                      San Pedro's Plaza Duarte.
                            "For us, to have a man like Sammy Sosa is to have an example
                      to live for--and to live by," said Nolasco, 20, who knew Sosa back
                      when he started shining shoes so his family could eat.
                            "There are so many negative examples around us. There are
                      drug capos here--wealthy dons who have used the cocaine trade to
                      get their fancy cars, gold chains and big houses," he said. "There are
                      millions and millions of pesos in dirty money floating around here.
                      There are so many temptations, so many vices.
                            "Sammy has given us a positive example. He has shown that if
                      you work hard, live clean, don't smoke, don't drink and believe in
                      God and in yourself," you can succeed.
                            For Sosa, who rose from Plaza Duarte's cracked sidewalks
                      where he earned $1 a day to a $42.5-million contract, there was
                      also a good bit of luck. The story is almost folklore now, as it's told
                      and retold by every shoeshine boy in the square: How American Bill
                      Chase, who ran a shoe factory in San Pedro's duty-free zone,
                      befriended the young shoeshine boy and bought him his first bat and
                      glove; how Chase now works for Sosa as his financial advisor.
                            "Imagine," said Mario Jimenez, San Pedro's municipal
                      president. "Sammy Sosa once cleaned his shoes, and now he's
                      Sammy's employee. It's something rare with a message for
                      everyone: There are no limits to achieving greatness.
                            "And there's no better messenger than Sosa. He is a
                      humanitarian man, a good brother, a good son, a good father and a
                      good friend. He is an ambassador for our town and for his country,
                      and yet he is the most simple and humble man in the major leagues."
                            Asked to explain the ingredients it took to produce a Sammy
                      Sosa, Jimenez cited San Pedro natives such as Julio Franco, Rico
                      Carty, Alfredo Griffin, Rafael Santana and Rafael Batista.
                            Most of them started like Sosa, catching balls in mitts fashioned
                      from milk cartons on rocky and rutted fields. A scene this week in
                      Consuelo, the village on San Pedro's outskirts where Sosa was
                      born, documented the phenomenon: A dozen young Dominicans
                      were practicing in a garbage-strewn lot, using a taped tree limb for
                      a bat and a plastic bottle cap for a ball.
                            "That's why we Dominicans are so good, because we start out
                      playing against all odds," Jimenez said. "We break our bones
                      learning this sport from the earliest age under the worst conditions."
                            But Sosa's elder sister offered a more mystical explanation: "It's
                      in the land, in the soil," said Sonia Sosa, 31, who runs an upscale
                      clothing boutique in town.
                            "The people are poor, but the land is rich. If you plant a seed
                      here, like Sammy, it will grow into a magnificent harvest."
                            Sonia's shop is on the second floor of a small shopping center
                      that, together with the stately home he built for his mother here,
                      testifies to Sosa's enduring ties to San Pedro. Sosa dubbed it Plaza
                      30-30 when he built it two years ago, after his first season with
                      more than 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases.
                            In the center of the plaza's courtyard, there is small statue of
                      Sosa, bat in hand, atop a wishing well that bears the words:
                      "Fountain of the Shoeshine Boys. Your contribution will be donated
                      to the shoe shiners of Macoris. Sammy Sosa 1996."
                            "Sammy, as a person, is the same as he always was," his sister
                      added. "All his fame and wealth, they haven't changed him. He still
                      comes back here every year and stays from October to February.
                      For him, this is home."
                            Sosa's lifestyle during the off-season in the capital appears
                      anything but simple. He lives in a mansion in the city's most
                      exclusive district, where he parks his Ferrari, Rolls-Royce and
                      Mercedes-Benz. He is a friend of President Leonel Fernandez and
                      a permanent fixture among the nation's rich and powerful.
                            But even among the shoeshine boys in Plaza Duarte, Sosa is
                      seen as a superstar who refuses to turn his back on his roots. And
                      none appeared to begrudge him his success.
                            Each year, they said, Sosa returns to the plaza, embraces the
                      co-workers he left behind and asks each one to tell him their
                      problems. He distributes food to the poor and donates heavily to
                      Dominican charities. Last year, officials here say, Sosa gave 250
                      computers to the Dominican school system; he has pledged an
                      additional 40 for each home run he hits this year.
                            "But the most important thing Sammy Sosa has given this town
                      is the gift of hope," Municipal President Jimenez said. "For us, it
                      doesn't matter who was the first to hit 62 home runs or even who
                      finishes the home run contest in first place this year.
                            "For us, Sammy Sosa already has achieved more than anyone
                      here could imagine. He has taught us that nothing is impossible."

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