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The Republic of Baseball

The Republic of Baseball

Posted by PanamericanWorld on February 18, 2016

Baseball is beginning again in the United States, with players gathering at spring training sites in Florida and Arizona. But in the Dominican Republic, the sport never really stops. It is a year-round religion, a potential ticket out of poverty, and the result is that the country produces more major leaguers than any other nation except the United States.

Baseball is everywhere in the Dominican, and the images it creates are both innocent and jarring. Outside the walls of all-inclusive resorts that sell paradise to tourists, Dominican youths in dollar flip-flops swing sticks at bottle caps. Older boys live together under the supervision of a trainer, sleeping in crowded, stark rooms and hoping that their path will lead to a professional contract and a chance to play in one of the academies that every major league team operates on the island.

For the best players, the academies become a launching pad into the American minor league system and, from there, possible paydays in the major leagues that dwarf the everyday reality in which most Dominicans reside.

Even that first contract can drastically transform the lives of a player and his family. Raymel Flores was 16 when he signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2011 and received a bonus of nearly $1 million. The money allowed his mother and brothers to leave their two-room home in a rural Dominican village and buy a new car and a new home in a nearby city.

Flores entered the Red Sox’ academy on the island and by 2013 was playing minor league ball in the United States. In 2014, he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have stationed him in Class A outposts in Montana and Oregon as he continues his baseball journey.

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