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The Importance Of Baseball For Dominican Youth

After studying abroad and experiencing the culture in the Dominican Republic, I am very much aware of the greater importance of global sport. I can say that baseball in particular stands out for many reasons in the Dominican Republic.

First off, baseball isn’t just a sport in the Dominican Republic; it’s a lifestyle. Long working hours combined with limited break time and low salaries reflect typical jobs in the Dominican Republic and allow us to understand just how special baseball is in the Dominican Republic. Baseball is the alternative, better, more sustainable option for hardworking families.

Image result for dominican republic sugar plantations
A family in the Dominican Republic that lives next to others working on a sugar cane plantation.

My study abroad group and I attended a professional Dominican baseball game. Apparently, this game was a pretty big deal since it was a playoff match between two teams I had never heard of. That said, attendance at MLB games in America is definitely much higher.

Security in the Dominican Republic was much more tolerant of our goofy American behavior, even if there were several officers on the streets. We would yell and jump up and down like fools and they didn’t seem to care. Baseball is such a huge deal in the Dominican Republic and this nation is so poor that the stadium employers are probably thankful that they are making any profit at all. This stadium also features American options like Pizza Hut and Subway – a clear example of Americanization.

We spotted Hanley Ramirez, a former MLB player, playing for one of the teams in the game.  Oddly enough, he was 0 for 3 in his at-bats.

Towson University’s study abroad students attending a baseball game in the Dominican Republic.

In addition to watching baseball, we also played a lot of baseball.

A group of us played catch with one of the locals during one of our beach days. I got my first glimpse into how popular baseball is by playing catch with this friendly young Dominican man. We were even using baseball gloves. This local was quite good at playing catch, bringing heat with every throw, which caught some of us off guard. I asked him, cuanto tienes anos (how old are you) and he said 22. It wouldn’t surprise me if he has been playing baseball for a long time.

I asked him if I could take a photo with him in Spanish and we did.

Another Dominican, a much younger boy, also began playing catch with us in the ocean water. This kid could throw the ball well too, although it was hard to catch the ball because he was usually inaccurate and catching a baseball with bare hands sort of hurts.

Not only were these locals clearly very skilled in baseball already, they were completely open to playing with American strangers. I was not used to being so welcomed so fast. The people here were up to chat even if we speak different languages. This little boy was no different.

I also spotted some little kids playing catch with dirty gloves and baseballs in a narrow ally, which made me think that kids play baseball every chance they get.  Competition is high and wide in the Dominican Republic, so practicing even in your down time is probably a wise option.

A few days later, we played a game with some very talented Dominican baseball players for fun. To make the game fairer for us, we split the Dominican players on both teams. Everyone could tell that these players were going easy on us Americans.

Me with one of the locals on the beach who played catch with us.

It was insane to witness this talent first-hand. This game opened up my mind because I saw Dominicans and Americans attempting to communicate with each other in Spanish and English – a rare instance of two different cultures trying to understand each other simultaneously. Sports are, after all, a very unifying platform; they enable us to put our differences aside and work towards the mutual goal of winning.

At one point, I was running home and my momentum actually carried me crashing into the fence behind the catcher’s box, provoking much laughter from everyone. I received high fives from several Dominican players for pulling off that feat.

I haven’t played baseball in 8 years now, but I am always so excited to get another chance. This brought back a lot of fun memories playing recreational league baseball with my Dad as my coach. I played for many years with many players. Contrary to popular belief, baseball was actually my first love, not football.

Towson University students with Dominican baseball players.

Baseball in the Dominican Republic is like an escape.  It is an opportunity to excel at something and bring home a lot of money.  The alternative is working on a sugar plantain or some other low-wage job.  The Dominican Republic isn’t like the American dream where you can be rewarded for any old thing you do as long as you work hard.  The Dominican Republic is poor and baseball is the gateway to success.

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