Baseball: The American Pastime in the Dominican Republic One hundred and forty years after American-influenced Cubans fled their home island during the Ten Years’ War and brought baseball to the Dominican Republic (D. R. ), the sport is thriving in the impoverished nation. In the sport’s top professional league, Major League Baseball (MLB), more current players were born in the Dominican Republic than any other country besides the United States, where 29 of the 30 MLB teams are based (Gregory 2010).
The Dominican, a nation of 9. 7 million that lies 700 miles southeast of the port of Miami, produced 86 of the 833 major league players on the opening-day rosters of the 2010 Major League Baseball clubs, and about a quarter of all the 7,000 players in the minor leagues hail from the small Caribbean nation (Gregory 2010). And these Dominicans are far from peripheral figures in the major leagues; in fact, they’re central to the success of an array of MLB franchises.
Setting hitting and home run records in the 2011 postseason, native Dominicans Albert Pujols and Nelson Cruz have led their clubs, the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers, respectively, to the pinnacle of the sport, the league’s seven game championship—The World Series. Many of the biggest names in MLB, including Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero, Adrian Beltre and Jose Reyes all call the Dominican home.
But why has baseball, a sport that has declined in popularity at the hands of American football and basketball in recent decades, diffused so rampantly and successfully to the Dominican? As a process of culture change and neocolonialism, baseball diffusion to the Dominican provides a particularly interesting look at the divisive nature of the geographical forces of spatial flows and regional coherence. After Cubans brought the game to the Dominican in 1891, the game grew most in popularity during the reign of General Trujillo from 1930 to 1963.
In his sports sociology article “Baseball as Underdevelopment: The Political-Economy of Sport in the Dominican Republic,” Alan Klein writes (1989, 96-97) that on the island, “[Trujillo] encouraged the American-owned sugar refineries to subsidize teams of cane cutters to play during the months they were idle from the fields. As in Cuba, this practice fostered a high level of organization and intense competition, which in turn stimulated growth in the caliber of play and overall popularity of the game. Baseball soon became a natural fit for the island nation. As in Cuba, the tropical, constantly warm climate provided weather that was conducive to playing the game throughout the four seasons, something not even America could manage. In addition, the game gave young Dominicans the prospect of eventually getting to move north of the island to ply their new favorite trade in the more prosperous United States, something that the sugar refining industry could not offer.
Though American businessmen were exploiting the cheaper cost of cultivation in the Dominican at the time, they did provide some semblance of economic viability to many Dominicans, and in promoting baseball there with the help of Trujillo, they inextricably tied the game to the fertile land of the Republic and those who tended to it, thus beginning a long trend of spatial flows of money and players between the two nations that continues on into the present day.
From this first generation of baseball aficionados in the Dominican came a foundation upon which baseball would reach mythical status, something elders would pass down to future generations with a pride unrivaled by any other pastime practiced in the Dominican. In his book The Tropic of Baseball, Baseball in the Dominican Republic, Rob Ruck writes, “No other aspect of Dominican life, except perhaps for merengue, has provided as much joie de vivre for this Third World country, as baseball, its highest art form” (Ruck xx).
Ruck is correct in capturing this sentiment, that baseball truly became more than just a game created for entertainment purposes. Today in the Dominican, oftentimes a newborn’s first gift is a baseball bat or an old glove and ball. Just as Brazilian kids play soccer barefoot in the alleys of favelas to temporarily forget about the struggles of life stricken by poverty, young boys grow up in the Dominican playing makeshift games on the beaches of the tropical island nation.
The joy of the game and its ability to provide an escape from poverty undoubtedly has played a role in its success in the Dominican, but the reason for its autonomous status there is deeper than simply the “joie de vivre” it bestows. It was in baseball’s ability to provide economic salvation for young men living in the Third World country that the game has taken on astronomical importance in the Dominican. Klein writes (1989, 96-97), “To this end there is a preoccupation, both cultural and individual, with trying to develop players ho can play for American major league teams… Most youngsters come from families that cannot afford the cost of going to school (e. g. lunches, shoes, notebooks). ” Central to baseball’s success in the Dominican is this notion that baseball is the most viable rags-to-riches institution in the country. In the U. S. , teenage baseball prospects are drafted and signed to minor league contracts that are scaled on the basis of the round in which they were selected by a Major League club.
But Dominican baseball is a “free-market enterprise” (Gregory 2010); Dominican players can be signed by any major league organization, so American teams partake in bidding wars for the top prospects on the island. In this respect, the Dominican Republic is baseball’s “Wild West”, where organizations capitalize on the lack of restrictions that they encounter in the MLB draft. According to Gregory (2010, 2), “In 1980, nine players from the D. R. were signed to minor league contracts; on average, they received a signing bonus of $1,266.
Last year, teams signed 396 Dominican players; their average signing bonus was $94,023. That’s a huge improvement, but in a league where the average salary is $3. 3 million, it signifies that the deep Dominican talent pool can still be tapped relatively cheaply. ” That’s why by the year 2000, every MLB organization had opened a baseball academy or program in the D. R. , and that’s why young Dominican men continue to flock to baseball, thus perpetuating Dominican interest in the American Pastime (Gregory 2010).
Through MLB’s neocolonization of the Dominican, Gregory writes (2010, 2), “baseball has provided many real economic benefits to the Dominican Republic, plus immeasurable psychic delights to its citizens. But with these benefits comes a great social cost. ” While the game of baseball has provided regional coherence between the U. S. and the Dominican, it has resulted in a systematic destruction of Dominican ideals across all of the nation’s demographics.
As recent as last week, a wire report published in Dominican Today titled “Amid eternal woes, Dominicans turn to baseball” states “Amid rising crime, rampant corruption, shaky institutionalism and overall exasperation, Dominicans sigh in relief starting tonight when baseball again displaces politics as their true pastime, with games between the nation’s six teams” (Bautista 2011). But as multiple sports sociology experts would point out, the article’s lead is drenched in irony.
Over the past decade, only 2% of Dominican prospects who signed with a Major League club have made it to the majors, and the country’s roads and townships are “lined with the failures – those who gave up school to chase a baseball career only never to see a single offer from a big-league club (Gregory 2010). One of the reasons for these agonizingly long odds of “making it,” are the country’s thousands of “buscones” unlicensed agents who scout and train prospects by selling the dream of becoming a major leaguer to young men in order to pocket up to half of a prospect’s signing bonus (Gregory 2010).
In the D. R. , one prospect’s buscon is a washed-up former prospect’s swindler. As Adam Wasch notes in his article, “Children Left Behind: The Effect of Major League Baseball on Education in the Dominican Republic,” buscones often advocate that their prospects change their name and shave a year or two off their actual age because, as major leaguer Edinson Volquez points out, “if you go one year lower, you’re gonna get more money.
It’s all about money” (Wasch 2009). The buscones also often have access to performance enhancing drugs like HGH and anabolic steroids that are much more easily obtained in countries that lack adequate law enforcement like the Dominican than in the United States, and the prospects can easily get away with taking these supplements in the Dominican despite the major “juicing” scandals that have surrounded MLB for the last couple of decades.
Wasch does acknowledge that “both the MLB and the Dominican government benefit financially from their symbiotic relationship,” but it comes at a cost: “tens of thousands of Dominican boys have not received a formal education in the Dominican school system due to their love of the game,” and “while the D. R. ’s economy enjoyed steady growth during the nineties and the first decade of the new millennia, the government simply did not invest money in education. In fact, the D. R. government’s investment in education was and still is one of the lowest in Latin America” (Wasch 2009).
With this in mind, it’s hard to reason with the Dominican Today’s notion that baseball is the saving grace of the country when in fact, the people’s obsession with baseball is inextricably linked to many of the fundamental issues in the impoverished country that the populace wish to turn away from by attending a game. Still though, baseball’s interflow between America and the Dominican Republic remains as strong as ever and will continue to forge relations between the two North American ations for years to come, for better or worse. Works Cited Bautista, Tony (2011) “Amid eternal woes, Dominicans turn to baseball” Dominican Today English Edition October 14, online file at: http://www. dominicantoday. com/dr/local/2011/10/14/41282/print, accessed October 24, 2011 Gregory, Sean (2010) “Baseball Dreams: Striking Out in the Dominican Republic” Time Magazine Online July 26: 1-3, online file at: http://www. time. com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2004099-1,00. html, accessed October 22, 2011
Klein, Alan M. (1989) “Baseball as Underdevelopment: The Political-Economy of Sport in the Dominican Republic” Sociology of Sport Journal June 1: 95-112, online file at: http://web. ebscohost. com. ezproxy. lib. utexas. edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer? sid=c7e515f1-b978-4ef2-8879-18f93c3a3530%40sessionmgr12&vid=4&hid=10, accessed October 20, 2011 Ruck, Rob (1991) The Tropic of Baseball: Baseball in the Dominican Republic introduction pgs. xi – xx online file at: http://books. google. com/books? l=en&lr=&id=kloGyBSEsRsC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=baseball+dominican+republic&ots=60PHNePruq&sig=a6UFjovMRZXVJoxzuDQPXA69bzA#v=onepage&q&f=false, accessed October 24, 2011 Wasch, Adam (2009) “Children Left Behind: The Effect of Major League Baseball on Education in the Dominican Republic” Texas Review of Entertainment & Sports Law September 1: 99-124, online file at: http://web. ebscohost. com. ezproxy. lib. utexas. edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer? sid=c7e515f1-b978-4ef2-8879-18f93c3a3530%40sessionmgr12&vid=4&hid=10, accessed October 21, 2011