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What We Can Learn From Dominican Ballplayers

what-we-can-learn-dominican-ballplayersSam LeBeau has 18 years of experience training, playing and coaching baseball in the Dominican Republic. Sam works for Dominican Baseball Camp, which has taken thousands of high school and college baseball players and teams to the Dominican Republic. He is also president of Baseball Without Borders, a non-profit organization that seeks to advance international relations through baseball. For more information on travel to the Dominican Republic, please see www.dominicanbaseballcamp.com.

As a baseball fan growing up in the ‘80s I was always intrigued when I watched a Major League game on television and the announcer mentioned that a player was from the Dominican Republic. At the time I had never heard of the Dominican Republic and wouldn’t have been able to place it on the map. However, I was intrigued by these players who seemed to have a free-flowing style. There was a certain enthusiasm about how they played—like they were playing a backyard game with a group of friends.

They were also very good. Shortstops at this time were playing at a level previously unknown. (On a recent trip that I took to the Dominican Republic with the BYU baseball team, BYU coach Vance Law told his team that when he was playing in the MLB in the late ‘80s, 6 of the 26 starting shortstops in the MLB were from one Dominican town: San Pedro de Macoris).

In this series of articles I will share the successes that Dominicans have had in Major League Baseball, give some of the reasons why and share some key takeaways for American kids in order for them to become better players.

The Dominican Republic is located on the Island of Hispaniola (which it shares with Haiti) between Cuba and Puerto Rico. It is a two hour flight from Miami. It was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and Santo Domingo, its capital, is the oldest European city in the New World. The nation’s population is about 10 million people (compared to 300 million in United States) and at 19,000 square miles, it is about the size of the state of Maryland. Agriculture is the primary export and the average wage is $450/month (compared to $3,200/month in the United States).

Baseball was introduced in the Dominican Republic through American sugar cane factories in the late 1800s. Since that time it has evolved into a national passion. Pickup games in the streets are ever-present.

For every seven American players in the Major Leagues there is one Dominican. This is a remarkable statistic considering the fact that the United States has a population 30 times the size of the Dominican Republic and a landmass 200 times as big. A child born in the Dominican Republic is more than 4 times as likely to wind up at the highest level of America’s pastime as one born in the United States! At the minor league level, the numbers are even more out of proportion. Currently about 25 percent of minor league baseball players are from the Dominican Republic.

While the Dominican Republic has been the most impressive in terms of having the highest representation in the MLB despite having the lowest population, other Latin American countries are producing major leaguers at a similar rate. In fact, since 2002, 10 out of the 26 AL and NL MVPs grew up playing baseball in Latin America.

In the next installment, we will explore some of the reasons why Dominican players have been so successful in reaching professional baseball.

Travel to the Dominican Republic

None of what is written in this article can substitute for you taking a trip to the Dominican Republic and seeing for yourself what is going on there. It will sink in and stick with you a lot more if you personally witness it. Dominican Baseball Camp (http://www.dominicanbaseballcamp.com) offers opportunities for American high school baseball players to travel to the Dominican Republic, train with Dominican players and play games. It is a wonderful baseball opportunity, a great cultural experience and a lot of fun. Individual players can sign up or custom trips for groups can also be arranged.