The raindrops splattered noisily on giant leaves in the canopy of the rainforest above us as I followed my guide, Ernesto Hermano, deep into the jungles near El Morro, on the island of Puerto Rico, searching for the fabled “Fábrica de béisbol de diablos,” the Devil’s Baseball Factory. How I got to this point is tricky, as I was following a lead from a reliable source that there was something weird going on in the jungle, and it involved international recruits. I boarded my plane to San Juan, met up with my contact, and proceeded to Club Gallistico to talk about this secret baseball matter over a cockfight. In a hushed whisper, my contact told me to look to the forests for the source of baseball riches, and that he had a guide who would take me there. But the journey would be arduous, and the path would be dangerous.
I loaded up my pack at the outfitters, and together with Ernesto I went searching for the fabrica, driving through intersections without stopping to avoid the local gangs, eating fried foods at roadside stands, and being careful not to have the angels share of the local rum. After hours of tromping through the jungle we finally found it, a barbed wire enclosed compound with smoke streaming from banana leaf roofed huts. We had to hide in the brush to avoid detection, but I was able to make out several crucial details.
Of particular interest was the large number of teenage boys lined up in a seemingly military rank, throwing pitch after pitch to an equal number of young catchers, who were all calling the same pitches in a seemingly choreographed routine. Then a bell rang and with precision the players moved to the base running station, several diamonds that had been clear cut through the jungle. Grizzled looking men barked orders at them to hustle to first, slide feet first, and to collide with the catcher dummy at home plate. More than one prospect lost his teeth in this drill.
On the other side of the camp I was able to glimpse some hitting drills being carried out, as musclebound young men smashed watermelons with their Louisville Sluggers, clubbed coconuts for distance, and practiced other bizarre baseball rituals unseen in the states. Most disturbing though was the strike zone practice, where if a player swung at a pitch out of the zone, he was caned three times by the instructor.
At that point we had to make a quick exit, as an armed guard with a sub automatic machine gun was nearing our position, and I certainly did not want to be on the receiving end of it’s payload. Before I left however, I snapped a couple of shots of what seemed to be the man in charge of the camp, I do not know his name, but I know that he runs a horrifyingly efficient program, and if rumours are to be believed, is responsible for much of the talent that is infusing Cobb World at this time. Now if I only knew what the payback was, as it must be significant to warrant the secrecy.