The Dominican Republic in a Nutshell

We’re back! After spending 8 days in the Dominican Republic we are all now adjusting back to school and life here in the states. Our time there was spent learning and reflecting on the effect that Major League Baseball has on the community in the DR. It was a very powerful trip that gave many of us a different perspective on the system setup for these Dominican baseball players trying to reach the big leagues.

The trip was busy and packed full of visits and meetings to learn as much as we could in the time we had there. This post is intended to outline everything we did on the trip with more detailed posts about important events to follow!

Day 1: The first day we arrived in Santo Domingo in the afternoon after traveling all day and IMG_20150616_162733413night. We stayed in the colonial zone of Santo Domingo and were given an extensive tour of the area doused in history and Dominican pride. Many of the monuments and buildings in this area were some of the first establishments in the Americas founded by the sailors like Christopher Columbus on their voyages. The Dominican Republic was later colonized and evidence of the fight for freedom is visible in this historic area.  That night we watched the Golden State Warriors win the championship, which is even broadcast in the DR!

Day 2: On the second day we visited the Major League Baseball headquarters in the DR. We heard multiple presentations about the MLB and its role in the DR as well as implications that baseball has on families and the culture of the entire country. The office was built just a few years ago and was a beautiful office resembling many front offices of baseball teams in the US. After our talks with MLB we headed out to Playa Najayo where we would spend the next few days. IMG_20150617_161243082On our way to our hotels we stopped at a Buscone’s facility. Buscones are independent trainers who coach lots of kids of all ages in hopes of them signing a contract with one of the MLB teams. We talked to the kids and heard from them what their goals are and who their favorite players are. Then we hopped back on the bus to head to our hotels. At the girls hotel on the beach we started a pick up wiffle ball game among the class. Soon lots of local kids wandered in and started playing with us. By the end of the game we were all mixed in together and having a blast playing their favorite sport on the beach.

Day 3: Day three started with the group heading out to the community in Playa Najayo to visit the community center/ new school that one of our alumni, Veronica, along with the Padres organization, helped build to improve life in this area. We heard from the teachers and some students about the community and what they are trying to improve upon further since the school was built. IMG_20150618_102239086After spending some time interacting with the students and them asking about their lives in Playa Najayo, a team of our students challenged them to a game of basketball. It did not look good for the SMBA Ballers in their first game of their international tour but it was fun to be able to play with these students and learn more about their lives. Soon after we departed from the school to head to the Padres academy only a few miles from the school. When we pulled up the facility looked like a piece of San Diego sitting on this hill with an amazing campus including a Petco replica field, immaculate club house, training facilities, dorms, cafeteria, etc. The director of the academy gave us a tour of the campus and we watched a game that their team was playing against the Blue Jays Dominican Summer League team. After the game our group got to spend some time taking batting practice on one of their practice fields.

Day 4: On day four we woke up and headed out to the town of Bani where we stopped at the Centro Perelló cultural center. The center houses a museum and learning center for members of the community. We spent some time viewing Dominican art and learned about the local artists’ significance in the community. IMG_20150619_123332810After our tour we began our journey to the sand dunes. The sand dunes would have been an awesome experience except for the fact that it was the middle of the day and the sand was excruciatingly hot! Many of us were in flip flops and the san was burning our feet. While it was uncomfortable at the time we all laughed because there was nothing we could do about it and we all knew we would look back on that experience and laugh about it together. We saw some wildlife in the sand dune park while we walked back to the bus and we were all relieved to see our buses after that tour. Then we headed off to lunch where they served us fresh fried fish that was delicious. After lunch we headed back to Playa Najayo, where we all hung out, swam in the ocean, and played games on the beach before having dinner and relaxing all together for the night.

Day 5: On day five we visited the town of Haina and the school/ community center of Su Futuro. IMG_2122They shared some cultural dancing with us and we all danced together. Then they split us up into groups and demonstrated some of their community education presentations with us on topics of critical thinking, STD’s, and teen pregnancy. After the group sessions we all had lunch with some of the community members and they invited us to play a game of basketball with them. Game 2 of the SMBA Ballers international tour was also an interesting game. The kids were very serious and organized with official refs, time keepers, and a regulation size indoor court. It was a good game and very fun way to spend time in the community. After the game we all got back on the bus to head to the hotels to freshen up before we went back to the Padres academy for a barbecue with the players and directors. We had an amazing opportunity to sit with players and talk to them about their experience and their lives at the academy. Many of them shared their plans and dreams for the future with us. After dinner we played a game of stick ball and they showed us around their dorm area. It was a great night to interact with the actual players and hear their stories and perspectives on the organization and playing baseball their entire lives. After our time with the Padres, we headed back to the hotel.

Day 6: Day six was a Sunday so there is not much open in the country. We travelled to our final location of the trip where we would stay for the last two nights, Juan Dolio. Here we stayed in a resort on the beach where many locals go for a weekend vacation. On the way we stopped in a market in the colonial zone of Santo Domingo to buy some souvenirs and then headed to lunch. We had the pleasure of eating at Carolina’s restaurant. Carolina is half German, half Jamaican and she combines these two backgrounds to make German food with island spices and flavors. She served us German beer and some incredible sausages, ribs, German potato salad, and pretzels. When everyone was stuffed with chatted with Carolina and jumped back on the bus to finish our journey to the hotel. We all got checked into our hotel and had some time to settle in and relax before dinner and a reflection with the group about the trip so far and looking forward to the next day.

Day 7: On our last day in the DR we started the morning by visiting Banco BHD Leon which is that bank that brokers all the signing bonuses of the Dominican players when they sign with an MLB team. IMG_2145They spoke to us about the counseling they do with players and their families and how the system works for them to access their money. After that visit we headed out to the Mets academy which is considered the best functioning academy in the Dominican Summer League. At the facility we were given a tour and talked to the director about their strategy and the education they are providing for the players. We watched some of the game that was being played on the field and had an opportunity to talk to some of the coaches and directors of the academy including the first Dominican professional baseball player in Major League Baseball. He had some amazing stories and perspectives on the system. After the game we all had lunch together at the academy. IMG_20150622_120825760One of the grounds keepers at the facility offered to show us where he lives in a community near by and we all accompanied him to his house. He lives in an impoverished area and is working to build his own house and struggling to keep up with paying for this project. He was very proud to show us his house and community and we were all grateful of his time and openness in sharing it with us. After talking to him we headed back to the hotel for our last night. We all relaxed for a few hours before reconvening for the second annual Minto Classic on the mini golf course on the property of the resort. After the tournament we headed to dinner and had a long reflection all together about our favorite and least favorite parts of the trip and what it all means moving forward for us. We have all learned so much from the trip and we took the time to share our thoughts and feelings about what we saw and how that has changed our perspectives on Major League Baseball in the states. When we had all shared we only had a few hours to sleep before we had to be up to catch out flight home in the morning!

That’s our trip in a nutshell! Stay tuned for more posts about our experience in the DR!