Dominican Immersion Program: Education First, Baseball Second

 

“For a lot of us, life after the Big Leagues is harder than making it to the Big Leagues” – Pedro Liriano (MLB Picther)

Opening day 2017: nearly one third of all players on MLB rosters were born outside of the US, with players from the Dominican Republic making up the large majority.

The lives of those players on MLB rosters that hail from the Dominican Republic are a far cry from the impoverished upbringings of their childhoods. With the Major League minimum salary coming in at slightly more than $500,000 per season, even non-super star players from the Dominican Republic are making a fortune compared to the common Dominican laborer who makes $75 per month.

Poverty & Baseball

In a country where 40% of the population lives below the poverty line, baseball has become a double edged sword bringing hope and disappointment to many. The possibility to forever change ones life by becoming a star in the MLB has created an educational crisis in the Dominican Republic where baseball, not academics, is the priority for boys across the island. What makes this dream a potential nightmare is that baseball experts estimate that only 2% of Dominican players that sign a professional contract ever make a living from the game.

“I had teammates in the Big Leagues that would send home $20,000 per month to family members so that they could play the Dominican lottery. I had other friends that couldn’t read or write in English or Spanish but were expected to manage millions of dollars from the contracts they signed. Unfortunately, for many of my friends, life after the Big Leagues looked a lot like their lives before baseball: poverty and little opportunity”. -Pedro Liriano (MLB Picther)

Life After the Big Leagues

“Baseball is a beautiful game, its life changing, but it’s not the only way to be successful”. -Pedro Liriano (MLB Pitcher).

After retiring from a 15 year professional baseball career, Global Baseball Adventures’ (GBA) guest MLB coach Pedro Liriano returned to the Dominican Republic in order to share his knowledge of life and baseball with young Dominican players.

It is this shared belief that led Pedro Liriano & Isaias Franco (GBA founder) to launch the Dominican Republic Immersion Program last year which gives Dominican and American youth a once in a lifetime opportunity to get an intimate look into ones another’s culture, language and way of life.

Throughout the school year, Pedro with the support of GBA provides Dominican youth with mentoring, school supplies, educational support, clothing, food and of course baseball coaching. Although baseball is a big part of the work that Pedro does, the message that Pedro instills in the youth he works with is clear: “Work hard in every aspect of your life and prepare for your future as if baseball did not exist.”

During the 2016-2017 school year, Pedro supported over 50 youth ball players from La Piedra (Pedro’s hometown) and assisted each player with setting personal/academic goals at the beginning of the year. These goals were used as motivation for players throughout the school year with the biggest motivator being the opportunity to participate in GBA’s Dominican Republic Immersion program which is unlike any opportunity that Dominican youth & their American counterparts get to experience. Based on their merits over the school year, one Dominican youth who’s a part of Pedro’s mentoring program is invited to spend the week with the group of American youth who travel to the Dominican Republic as a part of GBA’s youth baseball trips.

La Piedra Youth Supported by Pedro Liriano

Cultural Immersion

Over the course of GBA’s weeklong trips, the Cultural Immersion program is one of the most transformative experiences for both the visiting American baseball team and the Dominican youth player chosen by Pedro Liriano. During the 7 days spent in the Dominican Republic, every aspect of the trip revolves around the American players sharing with and learning from their Dominican teammate.

What comes from this sharing of culture and language is a shift in the way each trip participant views the world & leaves each individual with skills/perspective that would otherwise be unobtainable. On the Dominican side, the Dominican youth player is given the rare opportunity to be able to practice his English language skills in a real world setting, learn about American customs and create long lasting relationships with American teens. For the American baseball players, the GBA Cultural Immersion program offers them the opportunity to practice their Spanish language skills, learn about Dominican customs, and get a new appreciation on life when they realize how challenging life can be in a developing country.

The Chosen One

At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, Pedro was overjoyed to announce that 9th grader Leonel Sanchez had been selected as the first ever participant in the Global Baseball Adventures Immersion Program. Leonel set his goals extremely high at the beginning of the year and his accomplishments of not missing a single day of school/baseball practice and rave reviews from his teachers led to his selection.

What made this an even more exciting announcement is the fact that Leonel is already a top Dominican pitching prospect with several MLB scouts already contacting Pedro about the possibility of signing him to a pro contract. Standing at over 6’0 feet tall and  weighing in at 175lbs, Pedro helped the young pitcher increase his fastball to 82 miles per hour in just one school year causing scouts across the island to flock to the small town of La Piedra in hopes of catching a glimpse of Leonel.

Leonel on the mound for his American Teammates

Despite pro scouts rushing to La Piedra to see Leonel in action, Pedro makes it very clear to all of them that Leonel’s education will not be compromised and that an education clause would need to be added to any pro contract he signs. By adding such a clause to a contract, Leonel would be given access to continuing education as a pro player and would receive additional supports like English language courses in order to assist with the potentially devastating culture shock that so many foreign players experience when coming to the states.

Arrival Day

During GBA’s inaugural Cultural Immersion program, Leonel met his new American teammates upon their arrival at Las Americas International Airport in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Despite a language barrier, the friendships between all boys immediately flourished! At the opening night ceremony, the jaws of the American players dropped when it was announced that their new friend was only 15 years old and was already throwing upwards of 80 miles per hour. However, as the week progressed, all of Leonel’s new teammates quickly learned that with such a big frame comes a big heart. Despite his imposing size, Leonel spent the week as the teams gentle giant sharing about the challenges that people face in the Dominican Republic, making everyone smile when he would practice his English skills and so much more.

    Arrival Day in the Dominican Republic

Life Lessons

The sharing of language, life experiences and laughter throughout the week led to an extremely heart warming goodbye at the closing night dinner where everyone at the table shared their most valuable lesson from the trip.

Quotes such as “I’ve learned that I have a responsibility to help others in the world due to the resources I have back at home” & “I realize that happiness does not come from material things” left everyone basking in the realization that traveling to the Dominican Republic involved much more than playing baseball.

Although, everyone had to say their goodbyes at the end of the week, Leonel was left with an experience that will guide his future whether or not it includes baseball.

“I’ve learned that through hard work & education, I can open up the doors to so many amazing experiences.” -Leonel Sanchez (GBA Immersion Program participant)

 

*Are you the parent/coach of a player that would love to experience another culture? Contact us today to learn about our upcoming trips to the Dominican Republic!

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