Jared Hopkins (Chicago Tribune) explores why the Dominican Republic is considered a baseball mecca. Here are just a few excerpts; see detailed article in the link below:
[. . .] Among the dozens of young ballplayers was Richard Paulino, 16, who stood along the first-base line, a few feet from what used to be a full backstop but had been whittled into a short stub of a fence. Muscular and a bit taller than his teammates, Paulino had just finished shagging fly balls in the outfield.
“I want to play in the major leagues, of course,” he said, his face curving into a smile to show braces. “I am passionate about the game. I am focused.” Can Paulino reach his goal? He’s certainly in the right country to get there.
The Dominican Republic delivers more talent to the major leagues than any other country besides the United States. Kids here are four times more likely than their American counterparts to reach the major leagues. Dominicans make up between 25 and 40 percent of minor leaguers.
“It’s the second-most-prolific country of baseball talent in the world,” said Kim Ng, Major League Baseball‘s senior vice president in charge of international operations. “The Dominican’s tremendously important and that’s why we just opened a brand-new office down there.”
The sport thrives here because of the talent — kids regularly drop out of school to play — and the environment that hastens its development. Money pumps in from the United States, thanks to major league teams and private investors who open academies. And success is still tied to the reluctant, rocky relationship between MLB and a network of independent Dominican scouts who train players, known locally as buscones.
[. . .] Baseball also remains a leading opportunity for kids to escape a country where more than a third live below the poverty line. Likewise, its economy stretches to jobs far beyond the ballfields: landscapers who care for fields; cooks and housekeepers; even real estate agents teams hire to find prospects housing. [. . .]
Many kids — like Paulino — train at independent academies six days a week and receive instruction ranging from how to steal a base properly to the importance of shaking hands after games.
“We have to be on and on and on and on with these kids,” said Astin Jacobo Jr., a respected buscone who has sent dozens of kids to the big leagues since his academy opened in 2001. “We want them to succeed. We don’t want the kids just to sign.” [. . .]