Thursday, June 9, 2011

From a Distance

Prior to my travel to the DR, I spent 2 weeks in Brazil for my international residency which I believe colored some of my experience in the Dominican.

Since this trip, I have been doing a lot of what a friend calls "processing". It is impossible to understand poverty on the level which we observed without seeing it in person and learning about how it impacts people every day. I thought I understood but at the end of the day, I only understand it as a North American from the U.S. even after having significant international travel experience. In some ways, people are accepting of their situation but others (especially young men) recognize that there is an opportunity to get out of the current conditions through baseball and see it as the best way to improve their living conditions. This creates a conflict in some ways: on one hand, it is a driving factor for them to improve their athletic skills, on the other hand, it can make them targets for less than ethical independent baseball talent agents.

Activities that I enjoyed included:
  • the opportunity to hear from former MLB players who are now working at the academies as player development staff or scouts - especially at the New York Yankees academy
  • seeing the enthusiasm in the academy players' faces on the field
  • gaining an understanding of MLB's perspective of the Dominican Republic including why they continue to invest human and financial resources in the country
  • the warmth of the Dominican people
  • and last but surely not least playing "street beisbol" with 8 year olds in a barrio in San Pedro de Macoris - home to David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez
For the required project/paper, I'm focusing on corporate social responsibility in the Dominican Republic and the role that MLB as well as the Dominican government play as stakeholders. Currently there are many ongoing stovepiped charitable efforts focused on alleviating the effects of poverty on the Dominican people - including illiteracy, malnutrition, lack of access to health care, and poor general education to name just a few. Some of these projects are being coordinated through USAID but most are independent. Ultimately, this paper will be a gap analysis and recommendation for more effective practices.

I think there is great opportunity in the DR not only for MLB but also for the people who live there and are surviving hand-to-mouth. It's not enough to just look on the DR or any other country as a location of a human zoo. If we are truly ethical global citizens, we need to invest ourselves and work with others who can benefit not only from our experiences but also who we can learn from at the same time in different ways.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Put Me In Coach...

Let’s talk about why we’re here in the Dominican Republic… It might be a little more than the non-baseball fans are interested in, but for context it will help…

Our trip consists of visits to MLB and private training academies which feed the Dominican Summer League… The players in this league are between 16 and 20 years old… Most have been playing baseball in the streets since they were toddlers… Discovered by both scouts from the academies and independent trainers/agents (called “buscones” in the slang term), these players are being groomed for MLB… There is no draft in the DR… Players are signed to contracts at the age of 16 or older… Baseball is their ticket out of the barrios and rural poverty that is so pervasive here... Signing bonuses range from USD$3000 and up, and I do mean up... Some of these kids sign for over USD$1mm...

In addition to poverty – and perhaps a contributor to it – is the lack of value that is placed on formal education here… Most children go to school 3-4 hours a day which includes the time it takes to travel there and home… Illiteracy is rampant and from the information we’re receiving it seems that there is no correlation between education and better economic opportunities… The government is of little to no help as less than 4% of the budget is allocated for education and of that the average amount spent per year in reality is less than 2%...

The academies in the best cases fill the role of trainers, educators, mentors and guardians… Some do their jobs better than others… Once the players enter the academies, the play on the field and the work done in the classroom become their jobs… All the academies have some education component… At the minimum, there are English classes to teach basic language skills both on and off the field…

Our role is to assess MLB and other private academies in the DR… What is the impact on the baseball players in the DR? What is their impact in the communities where they are located – primarily in Boca Chica? Are they being good corporate citizens, good international citizens? Can they be doing more? Should they be?

There are a lot of questions… Let’s see if we can develop some informed answers…

Friday, June 3, 2011

Playing in the Streets

Just to give you an idea of what's been going on this week... We spent yesterday playing baseball with some kids in the barrio of San Pedro about 20 minutes from our hotel in Juan Dolio... These kids were happy with a dented plastic ball (which was much more dented after our adventure) and a bat that had seen much better days... but their love of the game could not have been more pure nor their enthusiasm more infectious...

San Pedro is the home of many well-known MLB players including Sammy Sosa, Alfonso Soriano, Robinson Cano and Daniel Cabrera... More shortly including action shots of these players on the "field"!