Sportsball: Players join the Dash from worlds far, far away

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Luis Alexander Basabe (Photo credit: Jody Stewart/Winston-Salem Dash)

Luis Alexander Basabe stood alone in center field, islanded by the lengths of unguardable green, yet contained within the towering fence behind him.

Under the plum-dark sky at BB&T Ballpark on July 21, in the solitude of the outfield, isolation visited the lanky 20-year-old in more than a physical form.

Growing up in Venezuela, Basabe and his twin brother, Luis Alejandro Basabe, always played baseball together. When they were just 16, both were drafted as free agents by the Boston Red Sox. The brothers played rookie ball in the Dominican Summer League, then ultimately joined the Class A minor-league affiliate of the Red Sox in Greenville, SC.

Yet one year ago, Boston traded Luis Alejandro to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he currently plays for their Class A minor-league team in Geneva, Ill. The brothers separated indefinitely for the first time.

A few months later, Luis Alexander left the Red Sox organization in a blockbuster trade for Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale, one of baseball’s best. Four Boston prospects entered the Chicago system, including Luis Alexander, who now plays center field for the Winston-Salem Dash — the Advanced A affiliate of the White Sox — 800 miles from his twin brother.

Talking before the July 21 game, Luis Alexander said he spends the majority of his time in Winston-Salem in his apartment or at the stadium. Though he acknowledged that he and his brother still talk all day, he seems to have made peace with their separation.

“This is a business,” Luis Alexander said. “We have to figure out how to make some adjustments. This is life, this is baseball. You never know where you’re going to be.”

In his brother’s absence, Luis Alexander seeks fraternity with other players. Not fully confident in his English, returning to his native tongue helps to break down the barriers that baseball cannot.

“I like to talk to Conlan,” Luis Alexander said, adding with a laugh: “[His Spanish] is okay.”

Brady Conlan grew up in Northridge, Calif., and earned first-team All Conference nods during his junior and senior years at Cal State Dominguez Hills. He was drafted to the White Sox organization in 2016. But despite his professional achievements, Conlan’s most rewarding baseball experience originated through his heritage, and through another corner of the former Spanish Empire.

Conlan’s mother, who speaks fluent Spanish with Conlan’s grandparents, was born in the Philippines and moved to the United States when she was 4 years old. Through her lineage, and with the consent of his college coach, Conlan left California for the first few weeks of his senior season to play in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in Australia as a member of the Filipino national team.

Conlan has still never been to the Philippines, and many of his teammates at the Classic have never been to the United States. But by playing alongside them, the 23-year-old got the chance to learn their heritage — his own heritage — and perhaps a different side of the sport.

“It was crazy going from college, where everything’s serious… [to playing] with these guys, and they’re just having so much fun and really don’t take anything for granted,” Conlan recalled. “At batting practice they’re always laughing and joking around. You could tell it was so special to them. And so it made me feel like it was a rare opportunity, which it was. I mean, it was unbelievable.”

Brady Conlan (Photo credit: James Geiser/Winston-Salem Dash)

The Filipino team didn’t advance past the qualifying round in Australia, but Conlan’s participation in the Classic has given him a desire to pursue international baseball if opportunities arise.

“I definitely want to go to the Philippines, sooner rather than later,” he said. “But if any time there’s a chance for me to go to another country through baseball, that would be awesome as well. It’s one thing to go on a vacation there for a couple weeks in the offseason, but I’m sure it’s a whole different experience if you actually live there and really get to be part of the people.”

Conlan hopes that baseball may introduce him to new worlds. For Basabe, through foul and fair, it already has.

It was Star Wars Night at BB&T Ballpark on July 21, and many fans showed up in costumes or simply took pictures with the best-dressed of the evening. Darth Vader loomed from the scoreboard screen in the outfield, and for every strike the Dash pitchers threw, Chewbacca’s gargle sounded out across the stadium.

Baseball is a junction where many cultures meet. On our own blue planet, certain interpretations of the sport might resemble Mos Eisley, the Star Wars spaceport where people from every corner come. Not a wretched hive of scum and villainy, but a world of deals and dreams. Languages and fortunes, charismas and fates cascade into one another.

And for a few magical seconds, a small craft takes off from home plate, unbounded. With luck it escapes the field’s limits, as if defying the boundaries of an empire.

For a fortunate few —like Conlan and Basabe — the game itself has physically brought them to worlds unforeseen.

After all: This is baseball. You never know where you’re going to be.