“It’s just a game,” is a phrase I’ve heard too many times, and even though in the United States, it very well may be just a game, but in some places, a game is everything.
I have been an avid baseball fan since I was 12 years old. I fell in love with baseball when I went to a Texas Rangers vs. New York Yankees game and Rod Barajas hit the walk-off (game winning) home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. I have been fortunate enough to go to games like that- games where Nelson Cruz hit a walk-off home run against the Angels in 2007; I have seen the great Mariano Rivera himself blow not only a save, but a victory on a walk-off HIT BY PITCH on September 11, 2011; I was in the stands when Nelson Cruz (once again) hit a walk-off homerun in the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers, only it wasn’t any homerun: the bases were loaded and it was the 11th inning, making it the most epic, walk-off grand slam in Texas history.
In the last few years, I’ve become very keen on Minor League Baseball. The tickets are cheaper, and so is the alcohol, but it isn’t always better (I’m looking at you, margarita vendors!). The players are definitely more raw, but they have room, and time to grow. Sometimes, what ends up happening, is they take TOO MUCH time, and they lose their value, sometimes resulting in a trade or worse- they get released. An American baseball player has a High School diploma or GED to fall back on, some have college years under their belt, and many have even obtained a college degree. Dominican players aren’t so lucky.
In the Dominican Republic baseball is more than just a game: it is life. I’m not talking about crazy Rangers fan obsessed- I’m quite literally talking about LIFE. While not being great at baseball doesn’t necessarily break you, being great- hell, even being good at baseball can make you. There are six to seven stops in the process to becoming a major league ballplayer, depending on how advanced you are, and what country you hail from. Most kids in the Dominican Republic drop out of school at 12 and 13 years of age to train day in and day out until the ripe age of 16- when they are able to sign contracts with Major League organizations. Keep in mind when they drop out, and even when they sign their future is not certain. After years of training, they might not even get offers, or they may get offers, and not sign with a team after turning them down for more money, soon coming to regret that their “buscon” better described as a street agent- was so greedy in the first place. Often these aspiring prospects are fed inflated numbers of their worth, while the MLB scouts are trying to sign them for the low-low, the “playa price”. A lot of the time, the “buscon” will tell them to walk away from tens of thousands of dollars, because they think they could sign for hundreds of thousands, but with two sides that don’t see eye to eye- people are never afraid to leave the table.
Junior Payano is a 23 year old Dominican man who left school at 15 years to train for baseball. He signed with the Texas Rangers at 16 years and 4 months old for $60,000 USD in 2006. He played in the Dominican Summer League for three seasons and the Arizona Summer League for one season before the Rangers attempted to send him to the DSL for his fourth time. At 21 years old Payano asked for a release and the Rangers abided. He has nothing else to fall back on, and no money. He used his signing bonus money to buy his mom a new house. Four years have passed, and after getting married and then having a divorce, he still doesn’t have a rudimentary education, he has not found a job, or another baseball team. The only things he has added to his resume have been taking English classes at a local school, and playing baseball in the Winter Leagues in Taiwan, but he has gotten no bite on any other team offerings because of his age. (In DR you are as good as ancient as far as signing with another team after 22-23 years old. They want faster, younger, productive money making machines.) Junior has agreed to drive us through the country (driving in DR is very dangerous for foreigners) and be our guide as we meet locals, aspiring “peloteros” and the people they live with.
I want to raise $2,000 between my big, kick-ass Tejano family, my amazing friends (the 15-20 of you that I know are out there… somewhere), and my sister’s awesome friends. If everyone can donate $20 I know that we can get there without a doubt.
What will I use the money for? Let me get to that:
-Car rental and gas: Although we are planning to pay out of pocket for this expense, it would be amazing to have some help. Gas runs at about $6 a gallon in the Dominican, so it is more than double the cost than in Texas.
-Bug repellant: I honestly think bug repellant is single handedly the most important thing we’ll be needing. ONE can of “Off!” costs $10!!
-Equipment bags: The equipment bags we were given last year as part of our equipment drive we took to DR with us and left them with the groups we donated to. We will need to get new catcher’s bags if we don’t get any donated to us this time around.
-Additional baggage fees: Last year we flew Southwest Airlines to avoid additional baggage fees. That included the very tiring 3 hour bus ride in a FREEZING cold bus to the capital, where we missed our bus stop and got stuck in the hood. This year we are flying American, so although we will be flying in and out of our destinations, we will have to pay additional baggage fees.
-Equipment: With any left over money that we have, we will be hoping to buy some new equipment like knee savers for catchers, batting gloves, SOCKS! (most Dominican people in general don’t wear socks, and I find that odd, especially for baseball players).
-Any unforeseen complications that arise: When traveling, there are a lot of things that can go awry. In the Dominican Republic it might go awry, multiplied by 10. I try to stay prepared for the un-preparable, and that is hard when talking about good ‘ol DR.
Peace, love and baseball- cause that’s what brings people together,
Amanda Marie Martinez
--Please feel free to forward this to any of your friends who know me, like donating for good causes, or just love baseball.
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