As the baseball season approaches, it’s always good to reminisce about why we love the game so much. To some people, baseball is just another sport. There are debates about how baseball is not attracting America’s youth in the U.S. Some go as far as to call it boring. Sports like basketball and football take center stage. This is not the case in some Latin American countries. For some Latin players, baseball is not only a game but a part of their culture; in a lot of cases a method to escape from some of the roughest living conditions of everyday life. If you want to read about those types of situations, you can find them all over fox sports, or ESPN. No, this article is about how a simple journey gave me an appreciation/love for a game that has lasted until this day.
The year was 1985, I was roughly 9 1/2 years old living in Paterson NJ, my mother was a single mom raising two kids. We lived with my aunt and my two cousins. My outdoor activities consisted of wall ball (off the garage door) with my cousin, playing tag, bottle caps, and climbing the cherry tree that we had in the backyard of my Aunt’s house. Then one day my grandmother, “The Great Matriarch” of the family, made a few phone calls and had convinced family members that it would be a great idea to move to the Dominican Republic. The idea was that it would create a better life and would reunite the family again, and so we went on our way. My brother and I went first as my mother stayed behind to help send money so she can place us in private schools.
I am not going to go into the details of how shockingly different the cultures were, I am sure you can clearly picture that in your head. What I will say is that it was far more simple. Video games and material items available in most US homes were not standard after a few months of adjusting to strategic power outages and Spanish soap operas.<!–nextpage–>
I was then introduced to different types of games played in the street. The first consisted of placing down two metal pieces (license plates folded and placed behind triangles), having a team of two batters standing in front of the plates and a team of two pitchers who throw a ball to try and strike out those batters by trying to knock the plates down. It’s going to take some imagination to understand how much fun it was.
The second you have seen even Edward Encarnacion play. This is to remove the bottle cap from water jugs and use a broom or similar stick as a bat. If you think it is easy to hit that curving cap, then I would suggest you try it for yourself. Wiffle ball is nothing compared to the hand-eye coordination you need to hit a bottle cap.
It was then that I was presented with something that was completely new to me, a baseball uniform. My aunt worked for the main telephone company called Codetel, which is now Verizon Dominicana. She thought it would be a great idea for me and my cousin to represent the company she worked for.
Boy, I can still remember the colors clear as the day, White, with Primary yellow streaks and black stripes. If that wasn’t cool enough, my mother had surprised me with my very first Dave Winfield baseball glove that she sent from the US. As I tried on the uniform I felt a sense of pride. I wasn’t sure how to explain it like I was going to be a part of something special. That is the day my cousin and I walked to the baseball field and I realized…I had never played baseball before.<!–nextpage–>
As we walked on the field, a sense of heritage came over me. It was as if I belonged on that field. Like I had always been there. We practiced for weeks that I can remember, I had to learn all the fundamentals from the beginning. All to prepare me for the inevitable “game day”. The field was beautiful, new bases, new lines, merengue playing in the background. Parents clapping and cheering. In the midst of all that was a nervous 9-year old who was (mis)placed in left field. All I could think about was a million white balls heading towards my direction, or worse, one white ball that would miss my glove and hit me right in the face. I got rid of that fear in the first inning with the first batter.
In the bottom of the 2nd inning is when I realized how magical and exciting this game could be. It was my turn to bat. I watched as fastballs and curveballs were thrown for strikes and balls. With a 2-2 count I swung and hit the to second base, but the second baseman made an error to first allowing me to go to second. As I was being waved to third the ball was thrown and another error occurred. My team went wild as I scored on probably the weakest damn hit anyone has ever seen to second base. None of that mattered, only the feeling of great joy that we had scored a run, we would talk and joke about it for weeks to come.
At the end the day we celebrated our first win the only way we knew how…a traditional Chimichurri (Dominican Burger) and a cup of amazing Sugar Cane Juice. I will never forget the feeling. I will never forget the joy I saw around me. It was special! It was a moment that would ignite a love of the game from that day forward. Even now the feeling I get as my kids and I sit in the bleachers of Yankee stadium is breathtaking and takes me back to a day when something special started with just a simple journey.