The Dominican Republic accounts for more active Major Leaguers than any other country outside the United States. As of Opening Day this year, MLB rosters included 98 Dominican-born players, an average of more than three per club.
The dream of a Major League career sustains a complex system of identifying and developing amateur talent in the Dominican Republic, geared toward signing a professional contract. Still, players there face long odds of reaching the Majors, similar to Little League hopefuls throughout the world. And so it’s crucial to have infrastructure that develops future generations of fans, coaches and community members linked to the game.
Major League Baseball took an important step toward that goal Wednesday, as the league announced a $300,000 donation toward the construction or renovation of 30 baseball fields in underprivileged areas throughout the Dominican Republic.
Jorge Pérez-Diaz, MLB’s senior vice president in charge of international affairs, was in Santo Domingo for the announcement alongside officials from the Dominican Republic, including Junior Noboa, the Dominican Commissioner of Baseball, and Francisco Camacho, the country’s minister of sport. MLB’s objective through the grant is to make a broad impact across the country’s 31 provinces.
“We’re excited about it,” Pérez-Diaz said in a telephone interview with MLB.com. “The Dominican Republic is very important to Major League Baseball, and Major League Baseball is very important to the Dominican Republic. There have been such strong, symbiotic, cooperative relationships over the years.
“We also know that the conditions of places where these players play often aren’t very good. Sometimes, they’re playing in an empty corner lot. We’re trying to make the experience better for them.”
Pérez-Diaz said Dominican and MLB officials will work to identify fields that can be broadly available to community members and local baseball groups, apart from the academy-related fields where many pro prospects train. The Dominican government will operate the fields with an emphasis on public access and local league play, in contrast to the professional track’s showcase-driven approach.
“The idea is to make these fields into important parts of the community,” Pérez-Diaz said. “In the Dominican Republic, the irony is that there aren’t a lot of places for kids in communities to play. They don’t have many [formal] leagues, and so the government wants to use these funds to make sure there are playing opportunities for kids.
“Not everybody’s child is going to be Pedro Martinez, and so the idea is to make sure these kids are in safe environments, near their homes, and can play games in a safe and organized way.”