PHOENIX -- The country that wouldn't let Alexi Ogando pass through its borders for five years now has an only-in-America story on its hands.
The Texas Rangers' right-hander has blossomed into an American League All-Star less than two years after being unable to even get a visa to enter the United States.
And he has done so as a starting pitcher, after being converted from a setup reliever at spring training, after being converted from an outfielder in 2006.
On Monday, Ogando found himself in a fancy ballroom in a fancy hotel, seated among the best players in the game, answering questions as the most unlikely All-Star this year.
He couldn't believe it, either.
But he's in America now, and the latest piece of evidence that anything is possible.
"It's something that you hope, but I never even thought about it," Ogando said. "You never know what's going to happen, and things like this are possible. But I never imagined this could happen."
Ogando needed some help to get to Chase Field.
A.J. Preller, now the Rangers' senior director of player personnel, convinced club brass to take Ogando in the 2005 Rule 5 draft. The caveat was that Ogando would have to convert to pitcher.
Charisse Espinosa-Dash, Ogando's agent, hatched the plan that would eventually help Ogando and fellow righty Omar Beltre gain entry to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic after a five-year ban.
First, though, he and Beltre would have to speak across their homeland about the evils of human trafficking, something they had no idea they had become a part of when they agreed to marry women in 2004 in exchange for $3,000.
Once in the U.S., Ogando had to execute. He started last year at Double A Frisco, quickly moved to Triple A and was in the Rangers' bullpen by June.
He was going to be a reliever again this year, despite being stretched out as a starter in spring training, until Tommy Hunter was injured March 25.
The thought was that Ogando would be in the rotation only until Hunter or Scott Feldman or Brandon Webb would be healthy enough to join the rotation.
But Ogando, 27, started 7-0 and is 9-3 with a 2.92 ERA. He has eclipsed his previous career-high for innings by more than 30. He finished seventh on the players' ballot and became an All-Star only Sunday as a replacement for CC Sabathia.
"From where he was two years ago, to being in the bullpen, to changing into a starting pitcher, it's a great story," Rangers teammate Adrian Beltre said. "Being in the All-Star Game now, in his first time as a starter, he deserves it, and I'm happy for him because he's been through a lot."
Said former teammate Cliff Lee: "To go through the scenario that he had to through to stay over there for five years, and have his first year in the bullpen, the second year in the rotation and to do as well as he has is pretty impressive and a credit to his talent. He's got what it takes to be a very good pitcher."
Ogando sat quietly Monday in the AL clubhouse before batting practice and the Home Run Derby, but came out of his shell once on the field. Just being among the greats of the game, ones he has been retiring regularly this season, he said was emotional.
He also is hopeful that his rise from the State Department black list to the red carpet of the All-Star Game can serve a purpose for naïve young men like he was when he made a mistake that he is finally overcoming.
"What I did, when I became isolated in the Dominican Republic, for me is a message," Ogando said. "I hope that people can learn about my story. Another guy who might be in the situation might think about it and learn from my mistake."
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760