Now that the 2013 World Baseball Classic is in full swing, many of the world’s young players that have yet to land a big-league contract seek to showcase their talent and represent their country with strong national pride.
Before baseball became racially integrated, the sport was exclusive to white Americans. Occasionally, fair-skinned blacks and Latinos slipped past the discriminatory eyes of the league, but Jackie Robinson’s historical barrier-breaking first game as a Brooklyn Dodger in 1947 marked the beginning of a new era in Major League Baseball.
Now, baseball boasts players of all races and venerates the diversity of the sport with the WBC.
The first tournament was held in 2006, and, since then, the WBC has included teams from six of the seven continents, with major participation from Latin America—nine Latin American teams have participated in the Qualifier for the WBC since the tournament’s inception.
Furthermore, approximately one third of MLB consists of Latin American players, and the number is growing. As a result, Latin American countries, such as the Dominican Republic, have adopted the American pastime as their own.
As a Latino American, I take great pride in the role Latinos have played in the globalization of baseball, not to mention of the best ballplayers are Latino, but I digress.
On a serious note, MLB has made a strong investment in Latin America as a producer of premier talent, especially in the small island of the Dominican Republic.
The bulk of MLB’s investment in cultivating Latin American players, with special consideration to the D.R., lies within the baseball academies established by the MLB clubs (teams). In essence, these academies serve as a median for teenage ballplayers seeking placement into a MLB club’s farm system. However, do not let the term “academy” fool you.
Most of these Dominican ballplayers do not attend school and naively hope that their major league aspirations pan out. More to the point, the D.R. spends approximately 2.3 percent of its GDP on education—ranked 121st in the world.
Evidently, baseball players have become the major exports of the small Caribbean country.
One would think that the amount of money MLB clubs funnel to these baseball academies would aid the financial situation in the D.R.
Why then are the people, especially its young ballplayers and their families, still suffering? The system is scandal-ridden and corrupt, yet the results suggest otherwise.
Corruption has plagued Latin America for centuries, and United States intervention has not helped.
Consequently, it is not surprising that this corruption has found its way into the baseball academies, which, unfortunately, directly affects the young, aspiring athletes.
The sports documentary “Pelotero”—“Ballplayer”—(2011) provides a look into the daily lives of two impoverished Dominican prospects, training for a chance to sign a contract with a MLB club. Moreover, the documentary sheds light on the crooked atmosphere in which these baseball academies conduct their business.
In other words, the ballplayers of the D.R. not only have to worry about competing, but must remain wary of the “hustle” that MLB and the agents deal.
From collusion to forgery, as well as blatant dishonesty, the process of training and signing these hopeful teenage athletes has become an unpromising business.
The Dominican Republic spends little to nothing on education and does not protect its youth from exploitation by big, foreign business, such as MLB.
For example, in order for the U.S. ballplayers to be eligible for the draft, players must at least have a high school diploma; however, foreign ballplayers, are regarded as free agents and can be signed at the young age of 16.
Basically, that leaves Latin America up for the plucking.
In addition, these ballplayers fall under heavy scrutiny when put underneath the spotlight of MLB.
In the eyes of MLB, these players are guilty until proven innocent. In other words, any suspicion of a player’s age or notion of the player using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) causes the Latino ballplayer’s value to diminish.
Why? Simple. MLB clubs collude to get the most “bang for their buck.”
Did Ryan Braun see a pay cut? Alex Rodriguez? Barry Bonds? No, and all three either fell under suspicion of, or admitted to, use of PEDs.
I am not advocating for forged birth certificates and use of PEDs; rather, I write to bring to light the clutch MLB has on these naïve Latino players.
I worried about the complexities of trigonometry at the age of 16 while another 16 year old in the D.R. worried about passing drug tests, having correct documentation and enough skill, in order to sign a multimillion-dollar contract that would save his family from poverty.
There is something wrong with that picture.