How did Baseball find its way to the Dominican Republic
There are various myths in regards to the foundation and beginnings of baseball in the Dominican Republic. No, American Marines didn't teach the sport to the local people when they invaded in 1916. Native Dominicans truthfully learned the game of baseball from Cuban immigrants who had fled Cuba with the hope of escaping "La Guerra de los Diez Anos" (the Ten Year War). Cubans, as it turns out, are given credit for affecting the growth of the game throughout all of the Caribbean. However, it was the Americans that introduced the game of baseball to Cuba in the 1860s.
Many of Major League Baseball's brightest stars of both past and present come from the Dominican Republic. All-Stars like Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Ubaldo Jimenez, Edinson Volquez, Vladimir Guerrero, Hanley Ramirez and Albert Pujols just to name a few. The present class of Dominican players, however, had their route to baseball stardom paved for them thanks to former greats such as Manny Mota, Ozzie Virgil and the Alou brothers (Matty, Jesus, Felipe). Baseball in the Dominican wouldn't be what it is if it weren't for these baseball pioneers.
Nowadays, you will find even a Dominican Winter Baseball League which is made up of many players from Major and Minor League organizations in the United States. The league consists of 6 teams among them Aguilas Cibaenas, Estrellas Orientales, Gigantes del Cibao, Toros del Este, Leones del Escogido and the legendary Tigres del Licey. League play gets started in October when the Major League Baseball season ends in the United States and concludes in January just before the start of spring training. The Dominican League champion will then journey to play in the Caribbean Series vs. representatives from the Mexican, Venezuelan and Puerto Rican leagues..
Baseball is a monster in this tiny country, that is for certain. But just as in everything else that supplies monetary gain, there are people that look to manipulate and utilize the system unlawfully to their advantage. Freddy Peralta, a Dominican-born/Oakland, Ca resident and former Transylvania University baseball player said "The biggest issue with Baseball in the Dominican has to do with scouts that use the skilled young players for financial gain. They often times take a large cut of their signing bonuses for themselves which leaves the players with very little. Another big problem has to do with culture shock experienced by the players that actually make it over to the United States. The players are lost when they get to the states and do not know how to adapt."
To attest to Freddy's remarks, take for example, Dominican scout Victor Baez who was charged earlier this month for falsifying documents to acquire professional contracts for Dominican players. We can be certain to conclude that Baez wanted his share of reward later on for getting those players recognized. There is even a word for figures such as Victor Baez; "Buscones" which are the middle-men between Latin American players and major league teams. "Buscones", have been known to take up to thirty or forty percent of a player's earnings while licensed sports agents only qualify for around three percent. Melky Cabrera claims that he only received a fraction of the 175k bonus he was assured when he signed with the Yankees in 2001. Cabrera's mentor Victor Mata denounced any knowledge of Cabrera's finances. Hmmm. Aren't mentors supposed to help the players with these things?
Such types of fraud are nothing new. If you recall in 2008, standout Migual Tejada was exposed for lying about his age when he was signed by the Oakland A's in 1993. Tejada purely stated in an interview that he was a poor child and thought that by lying about his age, scouts would see more potential in him as an athlete. Many baseball players in the Dominican do in fact take overwhelming measures such as this with the hope of one day playing baseball for a living.
Manny Peralta, a Dominican-born/Lexington, KY resident says that "Dominican children will occasionally leave school at the age of eleven or twelve to focus on baseball full-time. There are baseball academies down there where all they do is grow kids into athletes, nearly every single major league team has some sort of presence in the D.R." The problem with this approach, however, is that for every Vladimir Guerrero there are thousands of Dominican players that you have never even heard of. By the time a player gets to the age of twenty, he has little education and has few job opportunities. Major League Baseball offers no further opportunities for such players that are regarded as un-resourceful.
Baseball has been a pillar in the Dominican cultural life for more than one hundred years. All thirty major league franchises now have at least one Dominican-born player on their team. Which means nearly one out of every seven players hail from this tiny country on the Island of Hispaniola. They play with a love and commitment that leads me to believe that America's favorite pastime is in good hands.