Rafael Montero was 17 years old when he decided to leave his rural hometown of Sabana Higuero, nestled near the Haitian border, and move 250 kilometers southeast to the Dominican capital city of Santo Domingo. Alongside one of his eight older brothers, he relocated with one goal in mind: to play professional baseball.

It is the common dream of children across the baseball-crazy Dominican Republic. But by the time a player reaches 17 years of age, it is often considered too late for him to attract enough attention from scratch to intrigue a Major League Baseball team.

Montero, who has a first-grade education, had played recreationally growing up in Higuerito, but never in a structured format. He was aware of the uphill climb. It fueled him to work harder. Every morning he would wake up at 6:30 to train with his brother. When the brother went to work at a hardware store, Montero would go to the local park to train some more.

He arrived in Santo Domingo with a fastball that topped out at 89 miles per hour. By the time he was 20 years old, it was at 94. When the Mets discovered Montero, they found a finished product, a rare talent that had slipped through the cracks. Bidding was minimal and they signed him on Jan. 20, 2011, for $90,000.
"I thought I had a chance," Montero said in Spanish hours before he made his Grapefruit League debut last night. "I just needed to work hard so that when I was 19 or 20 I would sign. And that’s how it happened. God helped me and I signed."