The Thrill and the Agony

This week in sports by Chas Walker

The Pan-American pastime: Dominican Dominance

Other countries must have laughed back when Major League Baseball first dubbed its championship “The World Series.” It rings with the swaggering air of U.S. self-importance and isolationism: the champion of the American League meets the champion of the National League, and whichever team wins is officially crowned the World Champion.

At first glance it appears that there is nothing that is international about MLB, except for two teams from Canada who never make it to the World Series anyway. But a look at the rosters of any team in the majors today – or the baseball highlight reels for that matter – tells another story.

That story is about the Dominican Republic.

Sure, there are Japanese players like the Yankees’ Hideki Matsui, whose leaping and diving catches in the outfield saved New York’s pitched staff on several memorable occasions. And a top-notch group of Puerto Rican players – like Toronto Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado – have at least helped North American baseball announcers get their tongues warmed up and their accents honed for this new wave of Dominican players.

Let’s consider for a moment some of today’s Dominican stars, without whom several of this year’s playoff teams would likely be lost in the pack.

The Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa has hit more than 40 home runs for the last six seasons. Despite his corked bat fiasco and a lengthy suspension, Sosa was able to recover and muster a very solid season, surpassing Mickey Mantle to become the 10th on the all-time career home runs list with 539. Another solid Dominican swatter is the St. Louis Cardinal’s Albert Pujols, who won the league’s batting title with a monstrous .359 batting average.

For their part, the Boston Red Sox also field quite a few Dominicans. Ace pitcher Pedro Martinez was 14 and 4 this year, with a 2.22 ERA, slightly better than his 2.26 of last year that made him the Cy Young runner-up. Outfielder Manny Ramirez hit .325 this year with over 100 RBIs and 37 home runs. N.Y. Yankee Dominicans include the speedy Alfonso Soriano, a lead-off batter who stole 35 bases this year.

Even Atlanta has a Dominican on their team – first baseman Julio Franco – who, at 45, is old enough to be the father of many of the younger generation of players. Yet Franco gets the job done – he again batted over .300 this year. The Oakland Athletics’ shortstop Miguel Tejada is a defensive phenomenon, with a glove so sticky that seems like it is covered in glue.

This list could go on, of course. Each new annual crew of rookies demonstrates more and more the strength of baseball programs in the D.R. Perhaps someday there will be a real world series, and Dominican players won’t have to leave their homeland in order to participate in the world’s top league.

As we salute the brave freedom riders this week in the fight for immigrants’ rights, we would do well to remember why immigrant workers come here in the first place. We have immigrants playing in the outfield and immigrants working out in the field for many of the same reasons.

Economic and political factors influence people’s migration decisions; workers go where they have opportunities to provide a better life for themselves and their families. Since the U.S. exports poverty to other countries, people are forced to leave their homes to come here.

You might think that a President who used to own a baseball club would understand this. But maybe that’s why the Texas Rangers never had a winning record under Bush’s watch….

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