Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Dominican Dream: Baseball

Robinson Cano, Jose Bautista, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes are only a handful of the players that make up 10% of players currently playing on MLB rosters. That does not even include the 25% of minor league players that also hail from the small island of the Dominican Republic with about 10 million people. As fellow 'The Sports Complex' contributor and study abroad classmate Alan Liang discussed his amazing and once in a lifetime experience in the Dominican Republic in yesterday's post, he touched on some prominent topics often overlooked by baseball fans. In this article, I plan to delve further into the topic of the baseball culture and how the Dominican Republic has turned into an "incubator" for MLB talent, as NYY Assistant GM Jean Afterman stated in our brief discussion during a visit to Yankees Spring Training.

While visiting the Dominican Republic, our study abroad class had the opportunity to receive lectures and a tour around the island from Jose Gomez, ESPN Radio Commentator in the Dominican Republic and Assistant GM for professional baseball team Escogido. He was extremely knowledgeable on the topic of baseball, quickly drawing my interest as to why their has been an increase of Dominican players in the MLB in recent years.
Kids who are eligible to sign with MLB teams through 2018 practice 7 days
a week at the private academy to prepare.
In the Dominican Republic, baseball is not only a sport or a business, it is the only way out of poverty. With a poverty rate higher than 50% and most families living off of $1.25 a day, they see baseball as an opportunity to help their families. However, with so many kids dropping out of school as young as the age of 14 to train with their buscón, a sense of false hope is created setting them up for failure. Buscónes are able to provide players with money, a place to practice, and connections within baseball. But like many other things, their is a major drawback to buscóns. If their young players are able to eventually sign with a MLB team by as young as 16 years old, they receive almost 30% of the signing bonus. Unfortunately, most aspiring players have no other choice than to have a buscón because they will not develop as quickly due to the training, food, and protein that they may otherwise not receive due to a lack of money.

Young baseball players see superstars like Pujols and Cano with multi-million dollar contracts and believe they can achieve that same type of success. Unfortunately, only 5% out of every 100 players will make it to the major leagues. This then leads to a repeat cycle of failure for kids without any education, continuing the trend of poverty.
16 year olds that have already signed
with MLB teams.

These statistics have not prevented kids from playing baseball. They continue their quest to play professional baseball due to the odds. They take a high risk, high reward and all or nothing approach. Baseball has the ability to bring in millions of dollars due to pure athleticism and health, not necessarily education. Going to college does not guarantee success because of the lack of middle class opportunities in the Dominican. Their is a huge divide between the upper and lower class. Dominican baseball players do not have much to lose by pursuing baseball because if they fail, they will end up back in the same poverty stricken area. Sure MLB teams provide education in their player academies, but only few offer the ability to receive a high school education. Dominicans are full of ambition to escape poverty placing a great amount of pressure on playing baseball.

I do not see a decline in the number of Dominican's entering the MLB anytime soon. With very little other opportunities, baseball will continue to be their escape. It will be interesting if their is an international draft implemented. MLB wants control of what is happening in the Dominican Republic with so much controversy involving the uncertainty of player registration and identification, so teams are not risking money by signing players lying about their age, etc. The implementation of the draft can be a benefit to the island by forcing a change in culture. The current system is no longer sustainable and the draft will force people in the Dominican Republic to do something else besides baseball to survive.


Alexa Fontanella is a sophomore Sport Management Major at Drexel University, from Totowa, NJ. She recently finished up her first co-op with Learfield Sports Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania. Alexa will also be working with Penn Athletics on marketing strategies and game day operations for the Drexel Dragons and Penn Quaker basketball teams. She is a huge New York Sports fan, specifically the Yankees and the Nets. 

Follow Alexa on Twitter @Lexa_Font4 and connect with her on LinkedIn.