Baseball in the Dominican Republic Part II

15 Jan

With over twenty professional teams from the U.S. having established baseball academies in the D.R., and every team at least having scouts, baseball is the most attractive option. All one has to know about this choice is that the normal signing bonus and salary of around eight hundred dollars per month for a fringe prospect is more than they would generally make in thirty years based on the 2007 annual average income of around twenty one hundred U.S. dollars per year. Beyond that they receive good meals, above average housing if needed, and medical care they often have never had. Dominican players are so prevalent these days nearly thirty percent of all players from A ball to the majors in America are Dominican born. When you expand that to players with Dominican roots the number jumps a few more points. Baseball has become so important to the D.R. that around eighty four million dollars pours into the country each year propping up it’s otherwise dismal economy. Last year five hundred and eleven Dominican players signed professional contracts for an average bonus of nearly sixty six thousand dollars. So far over four hundred and fifty Dominican born players have made the jump to the major league level with many more in the minors.

According to Al Avila, assistant general manager of the Detroit Tigers, whose father, Ralph, operated the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dominican academy for decades, “Baseball is the best way out of poverty for most of these kids and their families. They see on television and read in the newspapers how many of their countrymen have made it. For parents that have kids, they have them playing from early on. The numbers show that the dream is within reach. And even if they don’t make it, these Dominican academies house, feed and educate these kids in English. They become acclimated to a new culture, which is always positive. At the very least, even if they don’t make it as a player, they could get different doors opened, like becoming a coach.”

There are many that argue the D.R. is being exploited and it’s talent strip mined, ravaging the dreams of ninety eight percent of the young men that fail to reach the professional level after a couple of years in a baseball academy. Steroids has become an admittedly out of control problem with young players hoping to get signed. With baseball being seen as a way out of poverty for so many, independent scouts (Whom double as agents most times) have set up their own academies as well to circumvent the rules in place for foreign baseball teams scouting talent. These independents may take kids as young as thirteen that show promise out of school to train them with the hope that when they turn sixteen (The legal signing age) they will reap the financial benefits of their contract. What happens all too often is a player does not develop and and walks away from the experience with no education or the dreamed of big payday. Further complicating the issue is the fact that many major league organizations no longer want to deal with independent scouts whom are trying to artificially inflate the price of very young raw talent, money they often point out can be used to sign two players rather than one.

It isn’t just the United States turning to the Dominican Republic for baseball talent, the Nippon Professional League (NPL) of Japan is doing the same thing. One of the Most notable players in recent years to go to an NPL organization was Alfonso Soriano of San Pedro de Macoris, D.R. Soriano was signed to a contract at the age of twenty one by the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. He played a season in their academy and then used a contract loophole to retire and join the New York Yankees in 1998. Robinson Checo and Timo Perez were also signed by the Carp and later made the Jump to the major leagues. With this success other Japanese teams began building their own academies and added yet another option for young kids hoping to live out the dream of playing big money baseball. Like American ballplayers, Japanese players are looking at the D.R. as an option to honing their skills as well after Masato Yoshii experienced some success in the 2003 season in the D.R.

The other side of the coin points out a higher proportion of Dominican players reach the professional level than any other country and that for those whom don’t the two years or more of superior living and high pay gives the players and their families a chance to raise their level of living briefly at the least. Some use that money to improve their level of education in the hopes of avoiding being destined for a labor intensive career. One thing that has remained a constant is that many stars like Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Sammy Sosa, have maintained their roots to the island and made vast financial contributions to improving their communities and keeping the dream of playing baseball alive for further generations. Whether you see baseball as a game or a business it is an integral part of the landscape that makes up the Dominican Republic.

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