I recently spent a week in the Dominican Republic with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I stayed a few extra days and checked back in with the baseball documentary. When I was there last year, Raymel Flores was about to sign his professional contract. He and his family were anxiously awaiting the July deadline. After I left, he signed with the Boston Red Sox and immediately reported to their Dominican Academy. Earlier this year, after receiving his signing bonus, he bought his mother a new home in San Pedro de Macoris. I visited him at the Red Sox camp and at his mother’s new house. I also went back to the program where Raymel lived before he signed his contract to see the next wave of talent who are hoping to sign this coming July.
This will be one of the last times Raymel Flores washes dishes at his small three-room home where he lives with his mother and younger brother. Rain drips through holes in the tin roof and there’s one bed for all three family members. In the next few weeks the highly regarded sixteen-year old shortstop will sign a professional contract with a Major League Baseball team and will immediately enter a Dominican Republic academy.
There are two religions in the Dominican Republic, Catholicism and baseball, but the later dominates. Grown men gather in bars and bodegas on corners in every town to watch games. If there is an empty outdoor space anywhere near Santo Domingo, young players will be swinging a stick at bottle caps. They all dream of playing in the big leagues. In an impoverished country, this hope can be transformative. More and more young boys are entering ‘programs’ at early ages where they live with up to fifty other players all under the guise of a ‘boss’. The boss houses them, sometimes in abandoned buildings with colorful mosquito nets draped over rotten mattresses or his own home, and he coaches them daily. After a player signs with a big league team, the boss can receive up to 30% of the bonus, thus funding the development of other young players.
No Latin American country produces more Major League Baseball players than the Dominican Republic, a nation roughly the size of Vermont and New Hampshire. And they don’t simply make the big leagues, they dominate them. Of the nine position players representing the 2011 American League All-Stars, three were from the Dominican.
As one of the poorest countries in Latin America, baseball represents the best opportunity to escape the poverty and fulfill a dream that everyone shares. Raymel Flores signed a contract with the Boston Red Sox with a signing bonus of USD $900,000. He is now one step closer to fulfilling his dream of making the big leagues.
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We hunt raccoon, deer, dove, and wild hog on a Saturday. That evening we filled our plates with fried quail hidden by gravy, field peas, tomatoes, squash and onions, mashed potatoes, mustard and turnip greens, cornbread, biscuits, and pecan pie. Everything but the biscuits came from Jackson County.
Rusty and Ricky have lived in Jackson County their entire lives. They live off the land. They don’t gather around white tables in pretty fields to share a feast. They eat on TV tables while drinking Budweisers. This is the other side of what a Locavore looks like.