In our first full day in the Dominican Republic after visiting the MLB offices we piled into the buses to head to our next destination. While on our way to the town we that would use as our home base for the next four nights, we stopped at a baseball field (what the local kids call a “play”) near the Padres Academy. Yes, the field had two dugouts and a backstop, but other than that it was little more than a patch of dirt with some dead grass. The batting cage, which was built in between a few trees, was little more than 2x4s and a catch netting had equipment in it that looked to be 20 years old. When we walked onto the field, we had over 100 kids come running over to us.
They looked anywhere from the ages of 7-19. They were dressed in mismatched equipment and baseball gear while we were in our business casual and dress shoes during what was easily one of the hottest days of our trip. We had an opportunity to meet their “independent trainer,” as they prefer to be called. (They’re also colloquially called “buscones,” since they “search” for talent.) If an MLB team signs a player that a buscon has trained, the buscon receives 30% of the player’s signing bonus. We got the chance to ask these young men questions about why they play baseball, who their favorite players are, and what their favorite things about baseball are.
Their answers were all pretty similar, with most of their favorite players being famous Dominican nationals; however, none of them said they had a favorite team. For these young men, their favorite team is the one that offers them a contract when they are eligible to sign. We were told that the group we were talking with was the afternoon group that goes to school in the morning and practice baseball in the afternoon. There is another group the same size as the one we met that practices baseball in the morning and goes to school in the afternoon. These kids spend as much time if not more playing baseball than they do in school. To them, they see more opportunity in playing baseball than getting an education.
This is not their fault, the education system in the Dominican Republic is set up in such a way that allows these young men to play baseball pretty much all day. While these kids and their buscon say they go to school half a day per day, there was general speculation from the group that that was just lip service and a well practiced line. Visiting this field where these young men train everyday was a good opportunity for the group to see the conditions these kids train in, as well as getting some first hand accounts about why they practice and play baseball all the time.