Sept. 16, 2009: Coaching dreams facing exile

Latin mentor Ochoa dealing with possible deportation to native Mexico after appeal

Sept. 16, 2009

Morgan Campbell, Sports Reporter

On a dusty baseball diamond in North York, Pedro Ochoa crouches closer to the skinny kid in the batting cage to show him how to swing with more power.

Ochoa, a refugee claimant and former pro in Mexico, explains in Spanish that he needs to pivot hard off his back foot and use his hips, then demonstrates.

Moments like that, says Ochoa’s friend Manuel Guevara, are why Guevara founded the Academy of Latin Baseball of Toronto in 2007. He says more than 60 kids from across the GTA are enrolled in the program, which offers free instruction in baseball fundamentals.

Ochoa joined the academy last summer and quickly became its chief instructor.

Guevara hopes to expand the academy but those plans could depend on the outcome of a hearing today, when Ochoa makes a final attempt avoid deportation.

His chances of staying in Canada are slim.

Ochoa’s initial refugee claim was rejected in the summer of 2008, and he later lost an appeal.

Only 11 per cent of the 9,400 Mexican refugee claimants were granted asylum here last year, and an even tinier fraction are allowed to stay after losing their appeals. To remain in Canada, Ochoa will have to succeed where he has twice failed, and convince a judge that returning to Mexico would endanger his life.

Two years after he says drug dealers in Mexico threatened to shoot him, Ochoa still doesn’t think he’s safe.

“I’ll find a way to go to another place, but I can’t go back to Mexico,” says Ochoa. “I wish to resolve this situation, then bring (my family) to Canada.”

A decision on today’s hearing could take up to three months.

Guevara says losing Ochoa would be a body blow to a growing program.

“Ochoa had what we were missing (during the academy’s first year),” Guevara says. “He could organize practices and teach the kids…We’re doing the impossible so he doesn’t have to go. If he does, the program will continue but my workload will increase.”

Ochoa arrived in Toronto on Oct. 3, 2007, on a tourist visa, and two days later applied to become a refugee.

After five seasons playing in Mexico’s pro leagues, Ochoa says he retired in 1982 and began a coaching career that lasted until the day in 2007 when a crew of drug dealers set up shop near a diamond in Cardel, Mexico, where he was coaching some kids.

Ochoa says he chased the dealers off, but that they returned later, beat him up, pressed a pistol to his skull and threatened to kill him if he didn’t leave. Shortly afterward, his wife and two children moved to another town and he came to Toronto, he says, because of Canada’s reputation as a safe haven for persecuted people.

When Ochoa’s case finally came up, a judge rejected his claim, ruling, Ochoa says, that Mexico was a big country with plenty of places to hide, even if drug dealers really did want to kill him.

Ochoa continued on, and Damian Blen, head coach at the Ontario International Baseball Academy, calls Ochoa one of the best baseball teachers in the country.

“He brings so much experience,” Blen says. “If Pedro leaves (Canada) it will be very, very difficult. We won’t be able to find anyone close (to his skill level) in Canada.”

Copyright ©2009 Toronto Star

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