'Culture camp' gives Giants prospects taste of Dominican Republic
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Before he was invited to his first big league camp with the Giants, Kyle Harrison went to the Dominican Republic for culture camp.
Back in November, Harrison and six other American prospects in the Giants’ farm system -- Trevor McDonald, Eric Silva, Landen Roupp, Hayden Birdsong, Spencer Miles and Zach Morgan -- visited the Felipe Alou Baseball Academy in Boca Chica for a week-long immersion experience at the organization’s Latin American headquarters.
At culture camp -- the informal name for the program -- Harrison and his fellow farmhands got a taste of what life is like for international prospects who sign professional contracts as teenagers and begin their baseball journey at the club’s Dominican outpost.
They stayed in the dorms with the younger Minor Leaguers, sleeping in bunk beds with six to eight players per room. They took cold showers. They participated in baseball workouts and practiced their Spanish, learning to navigate a language barrier for the first time in their careers.
“It was definitely a humbling experience,” said Harrison, the Giants’ No. 1 prospect. “Now I know what they go through and what they’re playing for. It was really awesome to go. Kids, the passion on their faces there, was unreal.”
The program was part of the Giants’ ongoing efforts to bridge cultural gaps among the hundreds of Minor Leaguers in their system. For the past several years, the organization has hosted a similar offseason camp in San Francisco, bringing a group of international and domestic prospects to Oracle Park to get a feel for Bay Area culture. They planned to introduce a Latin American equivalent into the rotation in 2020, but those plans were put on hold for two years due to the pandemic.
Once travel restrictions began to ease, the Giants finally got to launch the program, inviting select American prospects and player development staffers to make the trip out to the Dominican Republic last fall. Harrison didn’t hesitate to say yes -- not that his parents would have given him much of a choice, anyway.
“You could either accept it or reject it,” Harrison, 21, said. “My parents were like, ‘You’re not rejecting it. You’re going to see what it’s like and going through that.’”
Kyle Haines, the Giants’ senior director of player development, said the feedback he received from participants was overwhelmingly positive.
“I think they were excited, and then it exceeded their expectations,” Haines said. “I think part of it was just amazing planning on our part to show what is culture and give them a good experience.”
When they weren’t at the baseball field, Harrison and other Giants prospects -- including international signees like Jose Cruz, Diego Velasquez and Ghordy Santos -- made excursions to Santo Domingo, where they toured the city’s Colonial Zone and learned more about the history of the island. There was a community element as well, as the Giants volunteered to play soccer and baseball with local disadvantaged children through a non-profit organization called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos.
The Giants hoped the highlight of the week would be watching shortstop Marco Luciano -- the club’s No. 2 prospect -- play for Estrellas Orientales of the Dominican Winter League, but the game they were scheduled to attend ended up getting rained out. They got better weather when they rented a boat and sailed to Isla Saona, where they spotted manta rays in the crystal-clear water and basked in the Caribbean sun.
“It’s pretty hard to beat the beaches there,” Harrison said. “They hooked us up over there. It was like a big party boat. A bunch of Latin music and all that. Great experience.”
Cruz, a 22-year-old Dominican pitching prospect who is also in his first big league camp with the Giants, said he thought the trip served as a good bonding experience between the club’s domestic and international prospects.
“Most of them had never seen beaches like the ones we have in the Dominican,” Cruz said in Spanish. “Everyone was super excited. It was cool because there were a lot of things they didn’t know about our culture, and they started to learn about it. Now that they’ve seen it and enjoyed it, they can’t wait to go back.”
Haines said he hopes culture camp will develop into a core part of the Giants’ educational programming moving forward. Another trip to the Dominican Republic is likely on tap for later this year, and Harrison said he’s already encouraging other Minor Leaguers to participate.
“I would do it again,” Harrison said. “We’ll see if they let me, though.”
MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo contributed to this report.