Written by Mike Monahan
As a parent of a college baseball player, the game has taken me to many venues. I have traveled from California to Florida to New Hampshire and many places in between to see my son play baseball. But I never imagined it would take me to the Dominican Republic.
I have just returned from watching my son, a catcher on the Dartmouth College baseball team, play the Dominican baseball academy teams of the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres. The Mets complex is located in Boca Chica and the Padres complex is located in Najayo, San Cristobel. Both complexes, consisting of two practice fields, practice infields, bullpens, covered batting cages, administrative offices, dormitories, cafeterias, weight rooms, locker facilities and classrooms, opened in the last 8 months. These organizations sign some players as early as 16 years old. They house, train and educate them, and in the process hope to be developing future major league players. These were both first class facilities and organizations.
With the help of David Howard (Dartmouth ’82), Executive VP of Baseball Operations for the Mets, and Sandy Alderson (Dartmouth ’69), CEO of the San Diego Padres this trip was made possible. Team fundraising activities and private donations during the past four years were the means for the funding for the trip. Ivy League rules prohibit the use of institutional funds for this purpose. NCAA rules allow international travel every 4 years, although this was the Dartmouth baseball teams’ first international trip.
Initially, the team was worried about how they would fare, since the Dominican players were just finishing their winter workouts before their Holiday break. After their break, the academy players return for more evaluation that determines if they stay at the academy or begin their advancement to the minor leagues, or get released. It didn’t take long for the Dartmouth players to realize they could compete with their young opponents.
I learned an interesting fact while talking with Rafael Perez, Director of International Player Development for the Mets, as to the reason Dartmouth was winning the first few games. He said to me that although most of the Dominican players had great tools to play the game, they had very little game experience and lacked the fundamentals needed to actually play the game. Most of these players had played in less than 100 organized games, since at age 13 most of these players had begun to master their specific skills and not play in many games, hoping to be signed by one of the major league teams. He pointed out that most American college players had probably played in 700 or more organized games since beginning to play baseball at a young age. Therefore, the Americans ability to play fundamental baseball, to move runners, hit cutoff men, take pitches, make plays because of fielding position, was the equalizer in playing an actual game. Rafael said Dartmouth was just the type of team that would help to emphasize what his staff was teaching the young Dominican players about the fundamentals of the game.
After seven days and six games in the Dominican Republic the team had a great appreciation of the Dominican people and their culture. The teams toured Santo Domingo and walked the streets of the Colonial Zone. They toured the countryside on their bus trip to the Padres’ complex outside of San Cristobel. And they attended a Dominican Winter League game. Not only was this trip a great baseball experience, it was a great cultural experience.
These comments from some of the players sum up their feelings and what the trip meant to them.
Jack Monahan, senior co-captain, Overland Park, Kansas: “It is not just a chance to play baseball, but to be part of a culture where baseball means so much to the people. Catching the Mets was one of the highlights of this trip. At first, we were a little shy about working with our opponents, but we were soon laughing and trying to speak each other’s language. I discovered that one finger means a fastball and two a curve no matter where you play.” (The Mets supplied pitchers for one of the games so the Dartmouth pitchers could have a day off.)
Robert Young, junior co-captain, Cleburne, Texas: “The experience of playing against some of the best young talent in the Dominican was amazing. Watching these guys work and play was like kids on a playground…it was obvious that they loved playing the game. It helped remind me of the passion I have for the game and why I play it. I will remember this for the rest of my life.”
I would like to thank Rafael Perez and Rafael Landestoy, Director of the Mets Academy, along with Cesar Rizik, Administrator of the Padres Dominican Baseball Operations for all their hospitality.
Mike Monahan is the father of senior co-captain catcher Jack Monahan of Dartmouth. The CBB will like to thank Mike for sharing the great story of this trip with our loyal readers. Please check out his pictures from the trip above.