Dominican Republic Baseball, National Passion
Baseball was first introduced to the Caribbean in 1866 on the island of Cuba. Taught to the Cubans by American sailors who were there to load sugar.
Eight years later in 1874 the first organized game of baseball was played between Cuban teams. In the years to come it would be Cuba who would spread baseball throughout the Caribbean. When the ten year war (1868-1878) in Cuba brought turmoil to the country, many Cubans fled their country and migrated to the D.R. bringing with them the game called “Baseball” or “Beisbol.”
Dominicans were quick to learn the game and soon organized teams and tournaments were being held.
Note: Baseball was being played in the DR long before the US Marines arrived for their eight-year occupation of the island in 1916.
Four teams were formed becoming the oldest and founding teams of baseball for the DR that is still evident today:
a. Tigers del Licey (The Tigers) – Santo Domingo 1907
b. Estrelles Oriental’s (Eastern Stars) – San Pedro 1911
c. Sandino – 1921- Renamed Las Anguilas (The Eagles) 1936
d. Leon del Escogido (Lions of the Chosen One) – Santo Domingo 1921
As travel became possible in the DR in the 1920s’ Dominicans went abroad to play in competition with countries such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and North America. In return these countries visited and played in the DR as well.
Rafael Leonidas Trujillo first gained control in 1930 by overthrowing the government by force. He soon controlled most of the Dominican economy and used his power to eliminate competition and established monopolities. It was after the 1936 Dominican Baseball League was finished that Trujillo took an interest in baseball. Knowing his people and the love of baseball they had, he dedicated the 1937 Dominican Baseball League to his re-election. To Trujillo’s advantage he merged the two rival teams from Santo Domingo (Licey and Escognido) to play in that years Dominican Baseball league. He then renamed the team “Ciudad Trujillo Dragons” after him and the city of Santo Domingo, which he had renamed already “Ciudad Trujillo” after he had taken power. These two teams would only be merged together for one year, the 1937 series.
The three-team league of 1937 brought together some of the best players money could buy. Santiago (Las Anguilas) acquired the skill of such players Luis Tiant, Martin Dihigo and Horacio Martinez. San Pedro (Estrelles Orientales) came back with Tetelo Vargas, Ramon Bragana and Cocaina Garcia. Trujillo took one look at the rival teams line up of talent and countered with Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige from the Pittsburgh, Crawford’s (Pirates).
Many would remember that 1937 baseball league. Baseball was played at its best and it would be the “Ciudad Trujillo Dragons” who would prevail and win the series, but it would come with much sacrifice for the country. Due to the financial toll the country took for buying some of the best players to play in the series, pro baseball would come to end for fourteen years. There are many who say the sacrifice was just too high.
While pro ball took a hiatus, Amateur baseball matured. International Championships were being played throughout the Caribbean with teams coming from the United States and throughout the Caribbean. In 1948 the Amateur Baseball team from Dominican Republic won the championship. This came only months after the team’s plane crash near Rio Verde. Only a few survived but it sparked those fortunate to survive to win the series.
Pro Baseball returned to the island in 1951 with the help of the Dominican International team and backing from wealthy prominent citizens. The league consisted of the original four- Licey, Escogido, Anguillas and the Estrellas. In 1955 the Quisqueya Stadium was built in Santo Domingo (Cuidad Trujillo) and on October 23 of that year the first night game was played on the island. That same year the pro baseball would take on a new schedule of a winter series while amateur ball would now be played in the summer.
The winter league winners of the Caribbean Islands have met in the “Serie Del Caribe” since 1949 to determine the champs of the Caribbean. Between 1949 and 1960 the countries of Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico and Venezuela had played in early February to determine the champion of the Caribbean. The series was discontinued after 1960 because of the Cuban revolution, but in 1970 it resumed with the Dominican Republic and Mexico replacing Cuba and Panama. It was not uncommon to see many of the minor league players of the major league teams from the United States play in these games but by the mid 1980 fewer return to the islands to play due to risk of injury and the demand of the regular season.
Today there are six teams, which play in the pro baseball league in the Dominican Republic. The original four -Licey, Escogido, Anguilas and the Estrelles plus the Azucareros del Este from La Romana and the Pollos Nacionales from San Francisco de Macor’s. There is rumor that a seventh team will join this year’s league (2002) from Puerto Plata.
Winston Llanos once quoted of the Dominican Baseball League, “It’s more than just a game. It is our passion. It’s almost our way of life,” and there is nowhere else that you can experience baseball at its best than in the Dominican Republic.”
Baseball in the Dominican Republic Today
The national sport and passion of Dominican Republic is baseball or “Beisbol” as the Dominicans call it. No matter where you go on the island you will find a baseball stadium/park, even in the poorest of towns. Today more than one in six players in the American league is from Latin America, the majority of them coming from the towns located on the southeastern coast Dominican Republic.
The sugar mill towns (San Pedro de Macrois, La Romana) have long been a part of Dominican Baseball. The history of baseball in these towns can be traced back as far as the Cuban immigration to the Dominican Republic. Dominican and American Mill owners approved of the sport and encourage their workers to participate in the sport. The six months dead season when sugar cane requires the least maintenance and the workers were unemployed helped contribute to the development of baseball in this area. Soon championships were set up to pit one sugar mill against the other. Baseball was not just a sport to these people but was bred into each child born.
The recruiting of young baseball players has become a year round job here. More than 20 major league teams now have baseball-training camps for prospective players. Scouts from these teams are sent out to hold try outs throughout the island. Those who are lucky enough to make the team are usually young boys between the ages of 17 and 18. Once selected they are sent to the teams camp where they are housed, fed and taught baseball. The average player will make about $800.00 a month.
These young players will compete in the Summer League, which consists of various training camps in a two-division league. If a prospect shows promise, he is then promoted to the minor league system in the states with hopes of making it to the major leagues. But for every new star that is born, hundreds will not make it.”
“Professional Baseball in the Dominican Republic has evolved dramatically in its 100-year history. Originally there were two professional teams in the entire country; today the league consists of five teams. Santo Dominigo has two teams, Tigres del Licey, and Leones de Escojido; San Pedro de Macoris has Estrellas Orientales; Santiago has Aguilas del Cibao; and La Romana has Azucareros del Este. Each team plays a sixty game schedule that begins at the end of October and runs to February. The season ends in a round-robin play-off with the two finalists advancing to the Caribbean Series to play against the champions of Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.
Major League Baseball of the Dominican Republic began to gain international attention in the early 50’s. Ozzie Virgil was the first Dominican to play Major League baseball in the United States. By the mid-50’s,driven by the success of Juan Marichal and the three Alou brothers, Major League Baseball in the Dominican Republic had become internationally recognized as the home of Winter Baseball.”
Today, in this year 2001, men of poor origins like Sammy Sosa, Pedro Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and many others, proudly carry the Dominican Flag in the international arena, thank’s to baseball…