In the bowels of the national basketball arena in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the walls of a small gym are covered with a photo gallery of Latin American greats: Mariano Rivera, Orlando Hernandez, Raul Mondesi, Bartolo Colon, Juan Gonzalez and two pictures of Alex Rodriguez.
And in every picture, the same man appears, stocky but strong, older, always smiling.
Angel Presinal, 56, has the hands they all want.
Presinal, known as "Nao," is the revered fitness guru, massage therapist and personal trainer to baseball's Latino elite.
But in the United States, Presinal is persona non grata, banned from major league clubhouses and, in the opinion of MLB executives, a suspicious character linked, rightly or wrongly, to performance-enhancing drugs.
The trainer is in the news again because of his long relationship with Rodriguez, the New York Yankees' MVP third baseman who has admitted to having injected performance-enhancing drugs while playing for the Texas Rangers from 2001 until 2003. Rodriguez told reporters Tuesday the drug "boli" was supplied by his cousin, later identified by ESPN as Yuri Sucart.
Presinal surfaced on baseball's security radar in October 2001 when he and Gonzalez, a two-time American League MVP, were tied to an unmarked bag containing steroids discovered at the Toronto airport. Neither man was arrested, but MLB security officials informed all 30 clubs that Presinal was not welcome in any part of a ballpark where the public couldn't go.
In an interview with ESPNdeportes.com on Thursday at his gym in Santo Domingo, Presinal acknowledged working with A-Rod in the past but denied any steroids connection.
"I did work with Alex during that period of time [2001 through 2003]," Presinal told ESPNdeportes.com's Yoel Adams, "just like I helped all of my fellow Dominicans. He used to look for me. But I wasn't working with him on an exclusive basis. I was rotating between players and teams."
"I have never advised a player [to take steroids]," Presinal said. "I have never talked about steroids with any athlete, with any baseball player."
Rodriguez declined to comment, as did his agent, Scott Boras, and a public relations representative.
Presinal remains a respected figure in the Dominican Republic, and Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano said that won't change.
"He knows what he's doing," Cano told The Associated Press. "Any Dominican knows him. I don't care what people say."
But MLB officials have been displeased to hear that Rodriguez and numerous other Latin American players have continued to train with Presinal after he was banned from clubhouses in 2001. After officials discovered Presinal had worked with the Dominican team in an unofficial capacity during the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Dominican national team administrators were told he was not welcome. Presinal's name does not appear on a current list of Dominican team personnel for the 2009 Classic.
Presinal traveled with Rodriguez during the 2007 season, according to numerous sources, and the New York Daily News reported Sunday that Rodriguez worked out with Presinal in January in the Dominican Republic.
MLB officials have a clear stance on Presinal, although senior vice president Rob Manfred said in 2006 that Presinal might have unfairly borne the brunt of the Canadian airport incident.
That episode was first reported by the New York Daily News in 2006. The Mitchell report on steroids use in Major League Baseball addressed the Daily News report, but Presinal told ESPN.com he was never interviewed by Mitchell or his investigators.
According to a Canada Border Services Agency report, in October 2001, after CBSA agents noticed an unmarked bag on the Cleveland Indians' team charter, they opened it and discovered steroids and other banned substances. Agents detained Presinal when he tried to claim the bag, but he later told the agents that the bag and its contents belonged to Gonzalez. Gonzalez, the godfather to Presinal's son, later said the bag belonged to Presinal. Canadian authorities kept the bag without charging either man.
During the 2002 season, MLB officials were told Presinal was wearing a team-issued credential in Anaheim while sitting in the stadium during the Los Angeles Angels' batting practice, before the general public was allowed into the park. After MLB security was notified, the team was told to keep Presinal away from restricted areas.
One former Texas teammate of Rodriguez's, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Presinal had full access to the Rangers' clubhouse while Rodriguez was there from 2001 through 2003. "He worked with Juan and Pudge [Ivan Rodriguez] mostly," the former teammate said.
It was during that time, sources close to Alex Rodriguez said, that Presinal began working more closely with Rodriguez. Once again, MLB officials said they were alerted to Presinal's presence, and they informed the team he was not welcome.
But numerous Dominican and other Latin American players still swear by Presinal. He worked as the Dominican team's strength coach during the 2006 World Baseball Classic, although MLB officials said they were not aware he was working with the team until after the tournament was over.
Two years ago, before the 2007 season, Presinal spent considerable time in the Dominican assisting Jose Guillen with his rehab after reconstructive elbow surgery. Guillen, then with the Seattle Mariners, told ESPN.com he wanted Presinal to stay with him during the 2007 season to continue his conditioning program, but the plan never materialized.
Presinal said he got his start in baseball with Jose Rijo, the former big league pitcher. Presinal often travels to the U.S. during the baseball season to check up on the players he works with in the offseason. From 2003 to 2006, however, Presinal said he had a contract to work exclusively with former Cy Young Award winner Colon during the season.
"Before [Colon], I have a lot of players," Presinal told ESPN.com during a 2007 interview. "I go to see players. I travel one city for one guy in one week, maybe. A-Rod, for example, calls, 'I have trouble with the swing.' He asks for Nao for one week. Another call the next week is maybe Juan Gonzalez.
"Now in this stage of my life, I prefer to only have one guy and only go [to] one place. Not travel a lot."
Presinal got his start on the training staffs of the Dominican national volleyball and basketball squads, serving as a trainer and fitness coach for Olympic and Pan Am Games teams. Among the elite non-baseball athletes whom Presinal said he has personally worked with is Felix Sanchez, the 400-meter hurdles gold medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
The government continues to provide Presinal access to an office and a small weight room in Santo Domingo, although his focus shifted to training pro baseball players in the early '90s. At about 5-foot-9, he has a thickly chiseled upper body that gives him the appearance of a bodybuilder and enables him to move players around with ease as he stretches them.
"If I have to go back and work with him, I'll go back," Cano said. "He's a guy that knows what he's doing. I don't care about the past."
Mike Fish and T.J. Quinn are investigative reporters for ESPN. Fish can be reached at email@example.com; Quinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. ESPN's William Weinbaum and ESPN.com's Amy K. Nelson contributed to this report.