- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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Newly signed Boston Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo has successfully obtained his work visa from the U.S. government and is immediately eligible to play in games, according to Juan Perez, the president and CEO of Roc Nation Sports, which is representing the Cuban native.
The 27-year-old Castillo -- who on Saturday signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract with the Red Sox, the largest contract ever granted an amateur -- arrived at the team's facility in Fort Myers, Florida, on Wednesday to begin workouts. He is scheduled to work out again Thursday morning.
Boston's rookie league affiliate in the Gulf Coast League ends its regular season with a game Thursday. As winners of the GCL's South Division, the Sox rookie entry has qualified for the playoffs: a one-game semifinal Friday, with the winners meeting in a best-of-three final beginning Saturday.
On Wednesday, according to Perez, Castillo was granted a P-1A work visa from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for "internationally recognized athletes." The process required paperwork (including proof of residency) from the player, as well as from the Red Sox (including the player contract). A P-1A visa is initially granted for a period of five years, renewable once for a second five-year period. As a holder of a P-1A visa, Castillo also will be able to apply for permanent residency in the U.S.
The issuing of the work visa is the final hurdle for Castillo, who left Cuba under undisclosed circumstances last winter (believed to be in December), established residency in Haiti, and came to the U.S. with his wife and 5-year-old daughter on June 25, the same day Jay Z and his wife Beyonce brought their "On the Run" tour to a sold-out Sun Life Stadium in Miami. Castillo spent his first night in the U.S. at the concert.
Shawn "Jay Z" Carter is the founder of the entertainment company Roc Nation, LLC; Roc Nation Sports is its sports management division, with Castillo joining Robinson Cano of the Mariners, CC Sabathia of the Yankees, Kevin Durant of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder, Celtics draftee James Young and the WNBA's Skylar Diggins among its first clients.
"[Castillo] landed and went right to the show," Perez said by telephone Wednesday night. "That was the first time Jay Z laid eyes on him. Jay Z welcomed him to the States."
Castillo subsequently stayed with a relative in Boca Raton, north of Miami, and worked out in Pompano Beach for nearly a month with a couple of former minor leaguers, Perez said, before Roc Nation Sports staged a showcase for him at Mark Light Stadium at Alex Rodriguez Park in Miami, an event attended by 28 of 30 clubs. "When we thought he was ready," Perez said, "we took him there."
The Red Sox were well-represented at the Miami showcase, but had been tracking Castillo for months, dating back to his appearances in international tournaments in 2012. The Sox sent scouts to see him work out in the Dominican Republic in January, which is around the same time Perez, who was born and raised in Harlem and has been a close associate with Jay Z for over 15 years, said he first saw the player. Perez said he traveled to the island nation at the urging of Cano.
"A friend had been telling me he was great," Perez said, "and I told him, 'Have him go where Cano was at.'"
Cano is a native of San Pedro de Macoris. "Jose Cano, Robbie's dad, and Robbie saw him, and Robbie said, 'The kid's good,'" Perez said. "When Robinson Cano tells you a kid is good, you get on the next plane."
Perez said he knows little of Castillo's backstory, in terms of how he left Cuba and arrived in Haiti. "He doesn't want to get into that right now," Perez said. "And it's really none of my business. I just know he's a special player."
Castillo had a desultory first round of batting practice, but subsequently impressed the scouts in attendance with his speed -- a 6.5 60-yard dash -- and his power, hitting home runs over the scoreboard in left field and into the parking garage beyond the right-field fence. "I made a joke to him," Perez said, referring to a conversation he had with Castillo between rounds. "I told him hitting was like riding a bicycle -- you don't forget."
Castillo had several impressive private workouts for teams, including one in Fort Myers with the Red Sox, whose interest in Castillo was unmatched by any other club, Perez said. Other teams -- the Giants until the end, the Tigers, Mariners, Cubs and Phillies -- all showed considerable interest.
"But the Red Sox were hot on Rusney," Perez said. "They treated us great. Everything was first-class."
Red Sox vice president of player personnel Allard Baird was a constant presence, Perez said.
"We had barely gotten [Castillo] and he called me," Perez said. "I don't know how he got my number. He was always in contact, making sure that we stayed in touch, telling me, 'Don't forget about us.' I was Harlem born and raised and a Yankees fan, but I was impressed with the Red Sox organization."
Perez said he played a direct role in negotiations, with Brodie Van Wagenen, the head of the baseball division of Creative Artists Agency Sports.
"We want always to get the best numbers," Perez said of the agency that negotiated a 10-year, $240 million deal for Cano when he signed with Seattle as a free agent last winter. "We wanted to break Abreu's 68 (the six-year, $68 million contract signed by Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu). We always do what's best for the player, and we were chasing history."
And they found it. All that is left is for Castillo to demonstrate he can perform at a high level in the major leagues, after having not played in any games since 2012, his last season in Serie Nacional, the Cuban professional league. Castillo was on the provisional roster for Cuba's entry in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, but did not make the final cut under cloudy circumstances. Some say he was not fully recovered from an injury he had sustained the previous season. He also did not play in an international tournament later that summer in British Columbia; organizers were told he was dropped from the roster because of a disciplinary issue. There have been rumors of an unsuccessful attempt to defect, but to date nothing has been substantiated.
Perez said it is up to the Red Sox to decide when Castillo is ready to play in games, but is confident that he will play in the big leagues for the Sox sometime in September.
"As soon as they feel he's ready they'll bring him up," Perez said. "They'll work him out, see where he's at. But Ben [Cherington, the Sox GM] said at the press conference that they'll call him up in September, and I trust Ben.
"And when he plays, I'll absolutely be there. And depending on Jay Z's schedule and he's around, he'll come, too."
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