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Marmol says he's innocent victim of extortion attempt

(MCT) — MESA, Ariz. — Morning rain showers dampened the mood a bit Monday as Cubs pitchers and catchers reported to Fitch Park for the opening day of spring training.

But closer Carlos Marmol arrived with a big grin on his face, ready to move on from a nightmarish offseason and keep his reputation intact in the face of abuse allegations levied by a 24-year-old woman in his native country.

Addressing the media for the first time since reports surfaced two weeks ago in the Dominican Republic, Marmol said he was a victim of an extortion attempt.

"I didn't do anything," Marmol said. "The stuff that she says is not true and I proved it. … It is about the money. The first thing, when they went to the police, they asked about money right away."

Marmol said he knew the woman, Miledys Mejia Cepeda, because she grew up in his hometown. But he said he had never spoken to her before that Oct. 28 night, when he gave her a ride home from a party. Marmol said he was surprised when he learned of the charges from a radio report.

"They tried to make me scared," he said. "They were going to (ruin) my reputation in baseball. The easy way is to (make a claim) and then I'd give them money. But I'm not going to give them money because I didn't do anything."

The civil case was sent to a higher court Friday. Marmol said he doesn't know if he will have to go back to the Dominican for the next hearing.

"It's frustrating," he said, adding: "I'm very (ticked) off."

Marmol's attorney filed a countersuit to try to prove the accusation was a blackmail attempt. President Theo Epstein said the Cubs support Marmol and believe he's innocent. Marmol said the Cubs "know what's going on."

Marmol said it's not unusual for occurrences like this to happen in the Dominican because lawyers know it's an easy way to blackmail well-paid players for money.

"We've got money, we play baseball and they think every (player) is stupid," he said. "They try and make money (off players)."

Despite being in the middle of a news story, the usually jovial Marmol said he won't be negatively affected by the matter.

"I know what I feel," he said. "I know who I am."

It was a long offseason for Marmol, who acknowledged he thought he was dealt to the Angels for Dan Haren and was "ready to go" before the deal fell through.

"Everyone knows I love the Cubs and I love being in Chicago," he said. "I'm glad they didn't make the trade."

Garza watch: Rehabbing starter Matt Garza is up to 45 pitches in the bullpen and said he's "right on schedule" to return to the rotation for the start of the season. A free agent after the season, Garza is likely to be trade bait again.

"My goal is to go out there and pitch and prove that I'm healthy enough and make them want me to stay," said Garza, who made 18 starts last season before being sidelined by an elbow injury. "That's my job. Right now there's all the questions: 'How is he going to come back? How is he going to rebound?' Those are legitimate questions. ... I'm just excited to be pitching again. Not really too worried about what the future holds. All I know is April 1 is Game 1 and I want to be there."

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