Dominican Baseball: Finding a Way Out

Can you believe more than 10% of the Major League Baseball population comes from a country with a population of just over 10 million people? About 600 men born in the Dominican Republic have played in the Major Leagues since 1958 when Ossie Virgil joined the MLB and became the first Dominican to play professional baseball outside of his country. Now, players like Jose Bautista and Nelson Cruz are representing this country and building the reputation that good players come from the D.R. But what is it about the Dominican Republic that brings so many good players to the MLB?

For Dominicans, baseball is not only a game, it is a way of getting themselves out of poverty. About 32 percent of the Dominican population lives in poverty driving more and more people to seek a way out. Many young men are usually driven to play baseball as their way to achieve success. Former Boston Red Sox player, David Ortiz, wrote in the Players’ Tribune about the dangerous environment he grew up in when he lived in the Dominican Republic, “I saw people get killed right in front of me. There was a fight in my house pretty much every other day. It was normal. I grew up in a house that didn’t have the luxury of proper nutrition or vitamins”.

Even though it is a way to get out of poverty, it is not an easy thing to excel at. Charles Farrell, a sports advocacy and marketing consultant who helped found an academy that provides baseball education for Dominicans, stated "You've been a dream merchant, telling these kids they can get rich, that they can have a successful career through baseball.” Farrell explained, “So you've got kids dropping out of school at 13 or 14 to prepare themselves for baseball. But still an estimate of only 2% make a living out of baseball while the rest find themselves with no education and no jobs”. Currently there are 30 Major League club academies around this country with the purpose of providing kids a professional career as baseball players. These academies also attempt to give these kids a proper education for when their career ends. Even though the percentages are low, thanks to these programs, Dominicans are given an opportunity to join the MLB world.

People in the Dominican Republic grow up playing baseball and many adaptations of the game. They are passionate about the game and it shows in the fun they have while playing. The documentary photographer, Michael Hanson, stated, “It’s on every corner and it’s all day and all night and there aren’t other sports as distractions. I think that’s the difference between the United States and the Dominican Republic in my mind, and maybe that’s why the Dominican level of success in professional baseball is so high.” When you go to the Dominican Republic, you can see the kids in the streets playing the game with sticks and bottle tops, you see them play for hours and hours, practicing with whatever they can find so can make their dreams of being successful come true.
So, to conclude, there are many reasons why many Dominicans join the MLB, but it seems that escaping poverty may be a top cause. Whatever the case is, Dominicans continue to play this game and to make Major League Baseball the great game that it is.