'... they have a good work ethic. They start working in the fields early, so they don't mind working. Down there, people see Joaquin Andujar's house, Mario Soto's house, Pedro Guerrero's house, so they have a very good carrot, so to speak, to strive for.' -- Bill Wood, assistant general manager of the Houston Astros and a longtime observer of Dominican baseball.
(Editor's note: Aurelio Rojas, UPI Los Angeles, is a native of the Dominican Republic. He has been filing a series of dispatches on baseball in the Caribbean and recently visited San Pedro de Macoris for a look at why this city has been called the 'baseball capital of the world.' By AURELIO ROJAS SAN PEDRO de MACORIS, Dominican Republic (UPI) -- The stadium lights shine over streets where women walk carrying boxes on their heads and motorcycles buzz past produce-laden donkey carts.
Through the smoke from one of the area's seven sugar mills, the lights at the Estadio Tetelo Vargas serve as a beacon.
No other community the size of San Pedro de Macoris -- a Caribbean city of 123,000 located 40 miles east of Santo Domingo -- has produced so many big league players. According to official estimates, 270 players from San Pedro have reached the major leagues over the past 15 years.
A total of 21 players from the Dominican Republic are currently in the majors and a dozen of them are Macoristas, including Pedro Guerrero of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Juan Samuel of the Philadelphia Phillies, George Bell of Toronto and Joaquin Andujar of the Oakland A's. About 140 more are on minor league teams in the United States.
By comparison, only eight players born in the city of Chicago were on big-league rosters last season.
The average per capita income in the Dominican Republic, population 6 million, is less than $1,500 a year and in San Pedro most of the jobs are provided by the sugar mills.
The lure of the major leagues, where players earned an average salary of more than $365,000 in 1985, is understandable.
The overwhelming majority of Macoristas who make it to the big leagues return to San Pedro, where their palatial homes provide evidence of the gold they have reaped across the Caribbean.
On a recent day, a flashy white sports car -- license plate 'Ramirez Atlanta Braves' was parked in front of the stadium.
Nearby, Rafael Ramirez, a San Pedro native who has spent the last six years as the Braves' starting shortstop, was holding court as a group of youths looked on with obvious admiration.
With little else to do, most youths in San Pedro play baseball. There are 29 associations in the Dominican Amateur Baseball Federation, each overseeing the operation of nine to 30 teams at all age levels.
'They're hungry,' said Los Angeles Dodger Vice President Al Campanis, who has come to the Dominican Republic almost every winter for a quarter century.
'They have fairly good builds. They want to get fame and acclaim and money to eat and in that country that means being an entertainer, prize fighting or baseball.'
Bill Wood, assistant general manager of the Houston Astros and a longtime observer of Dominican baseball, said competition breeds success.
'They play a particularly strong brand of baseball in that sugar cane area from Santo Domingo east to San Pedro and La Romana,' he said.
'The youngsters don't get the kind of competition you and I might get in the United States, where we might go to a park on a Sunday and not see anyone playing baseball. Not in the Dominican Republic ... kids are playing everywhere.
'Plus, they have a good work ethic. They start working in the fields early, so they don't mind working. Down there, people see Joaquin Andujar's house, Mario Soto's house, Pedro Guerrero's house, so they have a very good carrot, so to speak, to strive for.'
Paul Snyder, director of scouting for the Braves, said the favorable weather also is a contributing factor.
'The weather is so good, they can play year-round,' he said. 'In Atlanta, for example, we get three or four months during the winter where we can't play.
'Plus, there's one thing the Dominican players do that you don't see in the United States. They go back home and they give their time to youngsters, passing along tips.'
David Dombrowski, vice president of baseball operations for the Chicago White Sox, said Dominicans have the perfect build for baseball.
'They have the type of bodies that are conducive to speed and developing strength,' he said. 'Most players are lanky. The majority of them don't get to eat a great deal. Their diets are basically fruits and vegetables. That's because of the economy.'
Ralph Avila, the Dodgers chief scout in Latin America, said the Dominican work ethic is a major factor.
'They show more desire, more determination than the rest of the Latin American players,' said Avila, a native Cuban.
'I've had Venezuelan and Puerto Rican players, for example, quit on me ... just walk off a field and say they didn't want it anymore.
'But in 16 years of coming down here, I've never had one Dominican quit. I've had to cut some who told me please give me another chance, I won't embarrass you. But I've never had one quit.'
Also, said Snyder, 'You rarely see a Dominican with glasses. They don't sit around down there and watch the boob tube all day long.' The History There are at least two versions of how baseball originally was exported to the Dominican Republic.
At the turn of the century, the first story goes, the game was cultivated by newly arrived American owners of the sugar mills, who sponsored company teams in local competition.
The mill workers were good players, in part, it is said, because wielding machetes in the cane fields had strengthened their arms.
Ensuing years of team rivalry and the 1916-24 occupation by U.S. Marines helped make America's national pastime San Pedro's major social activity.
The second version holds that baseball was exported from the United States to Cuba a little more than a century ago and adopted in the Dominican Republic a decade later -- brought to the island by those fleeing the Cuban revolution in the 1890s.
A number of players were brought to the country from English-speaking Tortola in the Virgin islands to cut sugar cane.
Today, a number of Macoristas -- called Cocolos by natives -- retain Anglo names, including major league stars George Bell, Alfredo Griffin and Mariano Duncan.
Since most Dominicans are black, the major league color barrier relegated them to the Dominican professional leagues.
'In the past, I really believe we had better players,' said Tony Fernandez, the Toronto Blue Jays flashy young shortstop. 'They just didn't get the opportunity.'
In the 1960s, a number of outstanding Dominican players, including future Hall of fame pitcher Juan Marichal, and the three Alou brothers, Felipe, Jesus and Matty, all from the Santo Domingo area, went off to the United States and major league success.
Impressed, the Dominican government built three professional stadiums on the island, including the Estadio Tetelo Vargas in San Pedro, which produced such players as Rico Carty, Manny Jimenez, Pedro Gonzalez and Amado Samuel.
The Estadio Tetelo Vargas was named after one of the town's baseball legends.
'Vargas was a good outfielder with speed and, boy, could he hit,' said Dodger coach Manny Mota, a native of Santo Domingo and holder of the major leaguelcareer record for pinch hits (150). 'He once led the Dominican League with a .355 average when he was 50 years old!' The Present While the San Pedro players of the past were denied a chance to showcase their talents in the United States, today's players are besieged by scouts.
Four major league clubs -- the Dodgers, Braves, Astros and White Sox - now run camps in San Pedro for players under contracts and tryouts.
The Yankees, Cardinals, Blue Jays, A's, Phillies, Indians, Expos and Mets run amateur camps within 20 miles of Santo Domingo. The Brewers have a camp on the north coast in Puerto Plata.
Teams bring in prospects, work them out and set up games. Under major league rules, clubs are permitted to feed and house an athlete for a maximum of 30 days before they must sign or release him.
The recruiting activity became so hectic that in 1984 commissioner Peter Ueberroth put an embargo on all Dominican player contracts because some big-league clubs were lax in checking the birth certificates of players they were signing.
The embargo was lifted after a rule was passed that prohibits issuing pro contracts to anyone younger than 17.
Pedro Gonzalez, an infielder with the New York Yankees in the early 1960s, is credited with being the catalyst for the recent flurry.
'A few years ago, a scout would fly in, check into the Sheraton in Santo Domingo, stay a couple of days and then tell his club he couldn't find any players,' said Gonzalez, now the director of the Braves Dominican operation.
Recently, Gonzalez, considered the godfather of modern Dominican baseball by many young players, sat with the Braves' Paul Snyder in the Estadio Tetelo Vargas reflecting on how times have changed.
'The competition also has picked up,' said Snyder, looking down on the field where a game was in progress between teams of Braves and Dodgers signees.
'We have a four-team (including the Cardinals and Astros), 60-game schedule that begins Nov. 4 and ends Feb. 26.
'That means these kids play a full season in the minors, come back home, rest for a month and then play all the way until they have to wait for spring training.'
Gonzalez pointed to the middle of the diamond while the Dodger team was in the field.
'You see those kids at shortstop and second base?' he said, pointing to Tito and Rolando Bell.
'Those are (Toronto star) George Bell's brothers. I really like the shortstop (Tito) ... good hands and a strong arm.'
Most players do not come from such famous lineage. At a nearby field, Chicago White Sox scout Juan Bernhardt was conducting a workout.
'You see the catcher?' Bernhardt said, referring to a strapping catcher named Feliciano Peralta. 'He's one of our best prospects. When I found him he was working pulling out yucca and sugar cane.'
The Future The Dodgers' Ralph Avila looks into a crystal ball and does not like what he sees.
'In the past, they had a lot of good ballplayers here in amateur baseball,' he said. 'but now the amateur baseball is real bad. They complain we sign all the good ballplayers, but that's not really true.
'What's happened is that businesses in this country, which used to sponsor amateur teams, are now putting their money into the new technology -- television and radio. That means there's little money left over for amateur teams.'
Dennis Lewallyn, a Dodger minor league pitching coach and veteran of the Dominican Winter Baseball League, advocates a supplemental free agent draft for Latin American players.
'Right now, a lot of them are being signed for peanuts,' he said. 'And what scouts do, is sign them in bunches, hoping there's quality in numbers. A lot of them end up being released.'
But Campanis said major league baseball cannot impose its will on foreign countries, where governments set amateur regulations.
Will the seemingly bottomless well of Dominican baseball talent run dry?
Lewallyn said this country is going through the normal ebb and flow, similar to what occurred in Puerto Rico several years ago.
'There used to be a lot of players that came out of there,' he said. 'Now, you don't see very many.'
Avila recalls that in 1971, there were only three teams -- the Pirates, Dodgers and Giants -- with scouting operations in the Dominican Republic.
'Now, all 26 teams send people down here. What happens when you have a gold mine and you do all the digging in one place? You eventually run dry.'
Gonzalez, the Braves scout, is not so sure.
'There's still a lot of good players here,' he said with the pride of a native.
adv weekend, Feb.
Why are Dominican so good at baseball? ›
Presently, all 30 MLB clubs have baseball training academies in the Dominican Republic. These academies not only groom players' baseball skills, but oftentimes include an educational component with many players living on site in dormitories.What is the Dominican Prospect League and how does it help and or hinder Dominican born players hoping to make it in MLB? ›
The goals of the league are to provide teams with an effective vehicle to evaluate talent, develop and prepare young Dominican players, improve the quality of instruction given by their trainers, and organize the major stakeholders in baseball in Latin America.How many people play baseball in the Dominican Republic? ›
Young baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic are foregoing the majority of their high school education to pursue baseball. Even though there are many challenges they face and a low success rate, thousands of players are hoping to make it big one day.How much do Dominican baseball players make in Dominican Republic? ›
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. It's why teams have made a huge investment in the island.Who is the best Hispanic baseball player? ›
Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rico)
The career numbers just as impressive: 317 batting average, 3,000 hits, 240 home runs and 1,305 RBI. But to hear those who saw him play, he's the best Hispanic player to ever play the game.
History. During the 1870s, many Cuban citizens fled Cuba because of the Ten Years' War. Many relocated to the Dominican Republic, bringing with them the sport of baseball.What makes Dominican poor? ›
Crime: Violence and criminal activity led to a downfall in the country's wealth equality. Although the Dominican Republic's gross domestic product continues to rise, different communities do not have equal funding. Higher crime rates lead to disproportionality of wealth.What are 3 things the Dominican Republic is known for? ›
The Dominican Republic is well known as a producer of bananas, mangos, sugar, coffee, cocoa, and tobacco. Dominican rum and cigars are highly rated by connoisseurs all over the world. Two semi-precious stones - amber and larimar - are associated with the country.What are the top 3 sports in Dominican Republic? ›
Baseball has always been the dominant sporting activity in the Dominican Republic, followed by sports such as basketball, volleyball, and tennis.
What is the most successful baseball team in the Dominican Republic? ›
|Most recent champion(s)||Tigres del Licey (2022-23)|
|Most titles||Tigres del Licey (23 titles)|
|TV partner(s)||Dominican Republic Águilas (CDN Deportes) Estrellas, Toros (Coral 39) Licey, Escogido (Digital 15) Gigantes (Channel 4RD) Outside the D.R. MLB.TV|
Baseball - or pelota, as it's called here - is the official sport of the Dominican Republic, and it's fair to say that it's a pretty big deal. Despite this island nation's tiny size relative to the United States, Dominicans account for more than ten percent of Major League players in American Major League Baseball!What sport are Dominicans good at? ›
Baseball is by far the most popular sport in the Dominican Republic. In fact, after the US, the Dominican Republic has the second highest number of baseball players playing professionally in Major League Baseball (MLB). Currently, the MLB boasts around 100 Dominican players.What are Dominicans best known for? ›
- The Dominican Republic is famous for being a top Caribbean tourism destination. ...
- The Dominican Republic is very famous for its exceptionally talented baseball players, such as Sammy Sosa, Pedro Martinez, and David Ortiz, and internationally popular merengue music and dance.
Even though close to three-quarters of all major league baseball players come from the United States, approximately 11 percent of all major league baseball players come from the Dominican Republic.