A Glimpse of Santo Domingo/A Day at the MLB Offices
We flew out of sunny San Diego on the evening of June 15th on a red-eye flight headed for John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. After switching flights in the early hours of June 16, we were finally headed for our destination, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Our first afternoon of travels in the fine country of Dominican Republic started out with a tour of the colonial area of the city where our tour guide started off our trip with a little historical background of this nation dating back to the days of Christopher Columbus claiming this land for Spain, dubbing the land ‘Hispanola,’ and triggering a series of long colonial conquests in the nation of Dominican Republic.
A monument to Christopher Columbus in Parque Colon, Santo Domingo.
This nation won its war for independence against neighboring country Haiti on February 27th, 1844 (which is recognized by the nation as its Indepedence Day) although it wasn’t until July 12, 1924 that all foreign influences within the nation were finally eradicated and the Dominican Republic became a wholly self-governing nation. The highlights of our brief tour worth noting here was seeing the Universidad Santo Tomás de Aquino, the first university set up in the New World (or the Western Hemisphere). This university was built in 1518 as a seminary for Roman Catholic monks before eventually being recognized as an university in 1538. Another landmark we were able to see was the Alcázar de Colón, originally the home of Diego Columbus, the governor of the colony and Christopher Columbus’ son. The palace was the center of the Spanish Court in the nation for nearly 60 years and enabled future Spanish conquests of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guatemala, Peru, Florida, and Colombia.
SDSU SMBA ’16 group picture in Santo Domingo. Alcázar de Colón can be seen in the left side of the background.
On June 17th, our first full day in the country, we proceeded to take a trip to the MLB Offices in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where we got to meet two people who were significant driving forces in helping establish MLB offices in this nation.
Our first presenter was John Seibel, the President & Founder of Entrena, one of Major League Baseball’s official partners in the Dominican Republic. He helped in the drive to set up MLB offices in the Dominican Republic in the year of 2000. The fundamental goals of this Office was to have an existing offices in the Dominican Republic to help improve the academies within the nation, to better train and prepare the Latino baseball players both on and off the field toward accomplishing their dreams of playing in Major League Baseball.
John gave us some background context and some of the socio-economic issues facing the nation. From the year of 1991 through 2013, the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had been increasing by a rate of 5.5% per year. However, there remains significant social inequality and disparity in wealth distribution on the island where the poverty level is approximately 41%. The highest 20% of the population owns ~52.78% of the wealth while the lowest 20% only possess ~4.67%. Dominican Republic also routinely ranked near the bottom in educational test scores among Latin American countries (such as 3rd & 6th grade reading levels).
With this said, one can imagine that playing baseball in the majors in the United States is viewed as the best way for many young ballplayers to escape the country and provide for their families, relatives and close friends. Osvaldo Virgil (whom we would eventually unexpectedly meet later on in the trip) pioneered the way for many other Latino ball players when he made his ML debut in 1956 and broke the color barrier within the Detroit Tigers franchise in 1958. The Los Angeles Dodgers were the first team to set up an academy here in 1994 and many other teams would soon follow the Dodgers’ model.
Sandy Alderson’s name was also brought up numerous times as a significant figure within MLB’s increasing investment into the Dominican Republic, helping to push for the founding of MLB Offices in Santo Domingo in 2000 as well as pushing the teams he was employed under for additional investments into their Dominican academies. Sandy’s aims was to help foster, facilitate, and protect MLB teams’ investments (especially in the fields of baseball operations, compliance, age & identity) in the Dominican Republic. As a result, two ML organizations that he has recently worked for has what may be considered the premier baseball academies on the island.
We next got to meet Rafael Perez, Director of Dominican Operations in the MLB Office, where he was able to delve more further into the role of the MLB Office here in Santo Domingo. The offices currently only employs seven full-time employees as well as several interns who are not only focused on baseball-related operations, but as well as education and community outreach to help better support all Dominican ballplayers who may or may not make it to the United States.
Rafael also mentioned that they had set up five RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) programs in collaboration with the MLB in an effort to support these communities and help the MLB academies have access to these pools of talents. Most MLB academies were located in the towns of San Cristobal, Santo Domingo, Boca Chica, which enables these teams to play each other without too much of the worry of traveling. One of the problems within this nation has been drug prevention & treatment programs. When the Office first started prelimiary drug screening tests in 2001, around 11 percent of all players tested positive for a banned substance. That number has reduced to a modest 1.3% in 2011 and ~1% in 2013, a sign of positive progress.
The Registration Department within the Office was set up in 2011 as a way to work with the department of talent development setting up exhibition showcase games to help aspiring young ball players be seen by MLB scouts/team officials. It also serves as these players’ first step toward realizing their MLB dreams once their age and identity has been verified and confirmed. Last year, more than five thousand players registered in preparations for arguably the second biggest day in Dominican Republic after Independence day — July 2nd, where ball players over the age of sixteen at the time are able to sign with a MLB team.
SDSU’s SMBA ’16 cohorts take in a seminar with Rafael Perez, the Director of Dominican Operations for Major League Baseball
Additonal Informational Links:
MLB Offices in Santo Domingo
Osvaldo Virgil Wikipedia Page