Angel Villalona heads to the clubhouse after a news conference Friday. The Giants gave Villalona, then 16, a team-record $2.1 million bonus. He spent two years under house arrest for murder; the charge was dismissed.

Bonus baby tries to put murder, visa woes in past

Published: Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 - 8:13 am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Speaking publicly for the first time since a 2009 murder charge, Angel Villalona wouldn't elaborate on his murky past.

"I'd rather not talk about it," Villalona said through a translator. "I just want to concentrate on baseball."

For the first time in four years, Villalona can do just that. He arrived at Scottsdale Stadium to restart a career that stalled in September 2009 when Villalona was charged with murder in a barroom shooting that left 25-year-old Mario Felix de Jesus Velete dead in La Romana, Dominican Republic. Villalona was incarcerated or on house arrest for nearly two years, but the charges ultimately were dropped.

According to reports in the Dominican, Villalona settled with the victim's family, preventing a civil lawsuit.

Villalona, 22, had intended to return to the Giants a year ago, but his visa application was denied. He had applied for a work visa that requires the applicant to be an elite athlete and, according to the Giants, Villalona was deemed "not in what (the U.S. Consulate would) view as top physical or medical conditions."

The 250-pound Villalona said he weighed 290 pounds last year but said he wasn't sure what happened with his visa application. He also refused to elaborate on a 2011 report that he sued the Giants for $5 million alleging a breach of contract.

The Giants gave Villalona a then-team record $2.1 million bonus at the age of 16, and he performed well while making his way through the low minors as a power-hitting teenager. Villalona hit 17 homers for Low-A Augusta in 2008 at age 17, and he had nine homers in 74 games for the San Jose Giants in 2009 when he suffered a quadriceps strain. He was on family leave when the shooting occurred.

Villalona said he never doubted that he would return to playing baseball. He played winter ball in the Dominican and last year played in the country's summer league, hitting .303 with seven homers, 34 RBIs and a .927 OPS in 44 games, the majority of them at first base.

"I played very hard, but I am aware that here it is a totally different type of baseball," Villalona said. "I have to work double because of the competition."

Villalona said he is not sure if he will return to the San Jose Giants or if he will be moved to a higher level. For now, he is focused on finding a comfort level in a spring training clubhouse that includes many former teammates.

Since Villalona's departure, the Giants have won two World Series s and players count chemistry as one of their greatest assets. In a clubhouse that banished Melky Cabrera last postseason for use of a performance-enhancing drug, questions remain about how the Giants will react to having a teammate not far removed from a murder charge.

Manager Bruce Bochy insisted Villalona will not become a distraction.

"He's coming in, and I know it's been a long journey for him," Bochy said. "He's excited about getting another opportunity."

The Giants intend to treat Villalona like any other member of camp, which is exactly what the first baseman was hoping for as he stepped foot on American soil for the first time in four years.

"I'm thankful that they gave me a second opportunity," Villalona said.

Notes – Tim Lincecum walked toward Angel Pagan's locker and pointed to the center fielder's hair, which is shaggier than at any point last season.

"I was trying to catch you!" Pagan said.

Lincecum's hair, of course, has been trimmed. But not much else around the clubhouse has, and that's just the way Pagan wanted it.

"I think that's the best thing we have," Pagan said when asked about the Giants bringing everyone back. "The chemistry is the same. There are some additions, but the atmosphere is going to be the same. The way we got along last year, it doesn't get any better than that."

• More position players checked into camp, including Marco Scutaro and Joaquin Arias. The team will hold its first full-squad workout today.

• Bochy said there have been no setbacks with pitchers after the first three days of bullpen sessions.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Alex Pavlovic



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