August 21, 2019

Sweet or Oh So Sour

May 19, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Black and white. Cut and dry. Or, in the case of aspiring baseball players from San Pedro de Macorís, red and blue. There is a wide disparity between those who reach the high levels of professional baseball and those who do not. That’s the setting we are exploring in Mark Kurlansky’s new book, “The Eastern Stars.”

Read this book because:

1. Kurlansky paints a striking portrait of one of the most fertile areas for tilling baseball talent.

What’s the first thing you think of when you see an up-and-coming baseball prospect like Stephen Strasburg netting a huge bonus? You think “Man, that guy’s going to buy a new house or at least a new car.” Manny Alexander, while nowhere near the talent Strasberg promises to be, was a solid prospect in 1988. His first purchase? “The first thing I did was I bought a bed,” Alexander said. “I wanted a small bed all to myself. Then I got a radio, some clothes, food.” (6, Eastern)

As of 2008, 79 players from San Pedro logged time in the Majors. More youths ply their trade in the Minors. But what about those without the speed, power, finesse, and whatever other intangibles a scout craves? Better get in line to cut sugar cane. While Major League ballplayers have plenty to fall back on for a partial year of work. Macorisanos are relegated to half time corresponding with the crop cycle. Typically a cutter could count on about $8 a day for chopping two tons of cane. 

2. Readers embark on a journey through Dominican baseball from its beginnings to the present, as players like Robinson Cano carry the torch.

Similar to the American version, there are conflicting stories of how and when baseball started in San Pedro. Some say the first game there took place in 1886. Regardless of the timeframe, the game’s inception undoubtedly centered around sugar cane mills that would sponsor competing teams from the different areas. And it was sugar cane that gave Macorisanos an edge over Cubans, Puerto Ricans and so on due to the American interest in sugar cane, which in turn meant more exposure to the prized game. Teams from San Pedro’s sugar cane mills became known not only for the cane they produced but also for their red and blue uniforms.

As rivalries developed between nearby regions, Macorisanos worked overtime to gain the upper hand. By 1911, ballplayers arrived from Santo Domingo by taking advantage of San Pedro’s commercial water routes. Previously teams had to make long journeys through the mountains in search of competition.

Rising stakes (both in play on the field and payouts) in the DR even drew players including Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and later, Roger Maris to the winter leagues.

A U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1916 furthered interest. With plenty of stored up scorn, Dominicans couldn’t wait to beat Americans at their own game.

San Pedro’s first big league star arrived on the scene in 1963. Rico Carty played 15 ML seasons, logging his best – .366 batting average (led the National League), 25 home runs and 101 RBIs in 1970. More important than his on-field performance was what stardom set him up for off the field. In 1994, Carty earned his hometown mayoral seat and ensured San Pedro prospects would always have Major League bats and balls.

3. On the flip side, Manuel Corporán’s tale helps outsiders understand why baseball success is critical to Macorisanos.

In 1989, Corporán captured the attention of the Baltimore Orioles. Corporán played in the team’s Dominican academy for two years before he suddenly was released. For the next five years, Corporán cleaned machines for less than $1 an hour.

Why are hopes so high in the Dominican Republic? Why are so many eyes on the region’s ballplayers? Angels scout Charlie Romero says simply, “These kids really work. You don’t want to go back from where you came from, so you give a little extra.” (164)

Sam Miller is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he worked with various teams in sports information and received the Freedom Forum – NCAA Sports Journalism Scholarship for his achievements. During the 2009 season, Miller served as communications intern for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. Prior to that, he worked as a communications intern for USA Basketball and as an associate reporter for MLB.com.

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