October 31, 2011

A Trip to the “Play” Brings the Story to Life for Martinez

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Christine Martinez is a baseball enthusiast.  She is passionate about the game, the business behind it and the personal stories of the players that make it one of the most popular sports in the United States.  However, it has become apparent to her that “America’s pastime” no longer solely represents the United States.  It is for this reason that she made the decision to conduct research on the game in the Dominican Republic, a country that is also steeped in baseball talent and heritage and the home of innumerable Major League Baseball (MLB) superstars who are transforming the way that Americans view the game.

Indhira Sepúlveda vuelve a su país de origen con una nueva visión del mundo“The Dominican Republic has the highest number of baseball players in Major League Baseball of any Latin American nation, second only to the United States in total players on major league teams,” she said.  “27 percent of 2010 Opening Day rosters in MLB were made up of players born outside the U.S. The numbers are higher in the minor leagues, especially at the lower levels with all MLB teams operating academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.”

After two months of living in Santo Domingo and researching the dynamics of baseball as an industry in the Dominican Republic, Martinez finally had an opportunity to attend a Dominican League game on Sunday, October 30th and experience the other side of the sport: baseball as part of the Dominican culture.

The game was the best ever,” Martinez said.  “The fans are so much more passionate here… every pitch and every play has the fans waving flags and blowing their horns.”

The Dominican baseball league season runs on a schedule opposite that of MLB in the United States due to the fact that many major and minor league players travel to the Dominican Republic to play in the league and stay in shape during the offseason.  For this reason, Martinez had to wait two long months, until the season finally began in late October, to attend her first game.

Indhira Sepúlveda vuelve a su país de origen con una nueva visión del mundo“Once the season started here, I watched some of the games on CDN [a local television network],” said Martinez. “I found ways to keep myself connected to the game here and the game in the US so I didn’t feel like I was out of the loop.”

The trip to “the play,” as Dominicans call baseball games, was organized as part of InteRDom’s agenda of cultural excursions around Santo Domingo, as it is a significant symbol of Dominican culture.  A trip to the play provides more than just an opportunity to watch the competition between talented Dominican and international players, some of whom are signed to major and minor league contracts in the United States.  Rather it is a production where a variety of characters including musicians, dancers, vendors and fanatical spectators provide the majority of the entertainment.

“On the field the game is no different from American baseball,” Martinez commented of her experience, “but off the field it’s much different.”

Martinez attended a match between two teams whose home fields are located in Santo Domingo, the Escogido Lions and the Licey Tigers.  The rivalry between these two teams is intense and historic, and Martinez was eager to participate in the fanfare.  She decided to cheer for the Escogido, she said, because the first baseman from her favorite MLB team, the San Francisco Giants, plays for them.
“I ended up buying a Licey hat at the game… because I didn’t like the Escogido hats.  So while I am a Liceyista, I still support all the Giants players on the teams here.”

One thing that became apparent to her after purchasing the hat, she said, was that many Dominican fans are very strict about who they cheer for.

Indhira Sepúlveda vuelve a su país de origen con una nueva visión del mundo“I’ve seen here that it’s very common to be on one ‘side’ in Dominican culture… some fans around me asked why I was cheering for Belt on Escogido if I was wearing a Licey hat.”

But in the end Martinez discovered that, contrary to what she had expected, Dominican baseball is not very different at all from the game in the United States.  Attending the game taught her a new perspective that will help her to better understand the game in the US as well.

“I came to the Dominican Republic without knowing what to expect and I found it’s really not all that different from daily life in the US,” she said. “I guess I thought baseball here would be different, and while it is in some ways, it isn’t in the fundamental ways.  I like that.”

Martinez’s research on baseball in the Dominican Republic with InteRDom will continue until mid-December, and she continues to dive into a number of topics about which little has been published. Stay abreast of the progress of her research this semester by frequenting the InteRDom Experience Seriesas well as the InteRDom blog, where her articles are published.