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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Texas Rangers prospects Omar Beltre and Alexi Ogando both threw off a mound under the sun in the Arizona desert Friday, a huge step in moving past their part in a human trafficking scandal in the Dominican Republic that banned them from entering the U.S. for five years.
"It was incredible," Beltre said when asked what it felt like to work out Friday. "It's unbelievable to be here."
Beltre was so relieved and excited to attend spring training and be in the United States after a five-year absence that his sore shoulder showed remarkable improvement."It was like magic," Beltre said. "It felt better when I got here."
Both players were offered money to marry women and help them get to the United States between the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Once the players went to their visa appointments, the State Department denied access to any players involved.
The Rangers applied through various legal and political channels every year to try to get the players admittance to the U.S., but nothing worked. That changed this offseason when their agent, Charisse Espinosa-Dash, decided on a public relations approach. Beltre and Ogando had already been speaking to younger players about the dangers of human trafficking. But they created a National Government Organization (NGO) that was supported by the president of the Dominican Republic to help women and further spread their message.
"This year we had some cause for optimism and we pursued it," Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine said. "We found something that had traction and it worked."
The Rangers stayed patient, believing that the players would one day get to the U.S. and be in position to help the club at the major league level. But Levine also said that he wanted to see the players get a chance to achieve their goals.
"They are good people," Levine said.
Beltre, who arrived with a sore shoulder, threw a bullpen session Friday. Ogando pitched to live hitters as part of his first day in Surprise.
"This is an unexpected, very great chapter in their lives," Levine said. "But this isn't the last chapter. They have more to achieve."Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.