Why is the amount of Dominican based ballplayers growing at such a prolific rate in Major League Baseball? Part because the kids in the Dominican Republic have such strong drives to be the next Pedro Martinez or David Ortiz, but also because MLB teams influence them to put in this amount of work knowing that they will be able to sign them for cheap later.
Between players like Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz, children in the Dominican Republic see them and aspire to be them. Not that this is a bad thing because it is important for kids and people to have goals, however it might not always be in their best interest to put such extensive work into baseball rather than something else.
According to the CIA/World Factbook in 2010, approximately one third of the population in the Dominican Republic is under the poverty line. And since this information is clearly very accessible since I found it relatively easy, I’m sure the MLB knows this as well.
The problem here is derived from the false hope the MLB provides kids in the Dominican through the baseball academies they have set up.
So when these professional run camps, with actual teams sponsoring them are offered, along with professional superstars like Pedro Martinez coming back to help their towns financially, there is no question the children are going to look at baseball as their only way out of poverty. Alan Klein writes in his book, Growing the Game: The Globalization of Major League Baseball, that according to a resident of Pedro’s hometown, players like him are “the best government we ever had” (90).
The fact of the matter is however that the strong majority of kids do not end up making it to the big leagues, and even the ones who get signed have a very small chance of actually making it to the highest level and becoming the next Pedro or Big Papi. So although these academies provided by the MLB pay the kids to devote their time their and provide them with services, it still in the end is not worth it for most because they should be focusing more on education than work on the diamond.
So what happens after someone finishes their time at the academies and their dream of making it big in the MLB diminishes? This video shows it directly through a couple players who experienced it:
So obviously a lot of players do not end up making it to the Major Leagues, however some still end up getting signed, but not for much. Because of the economic conditions in the Dominican Republic, MLB teams can sign these prospects that they have had eyes on in their academies for extremely cheap signing bonuses.
According to former New York Mets general manager, Steve Phillips, “You can develop 30 to 45 players from the Dominican for what it costs to sign a second-round draft pick in the States.” The teams know that these kids will take virtually any money for a signing bonus since they will take whatever they can get in order to instantly help their families. And since professional teams are signing them based off of raw potential, it is hardly a risk for them because if they do not end up being what they hoped they’d be, they barely lost any money on them.
Here is an NPR report on how many MLB teams are taking their academies in Venezuela (identical to the ones in the Dominican Republic) out because of poor living conditions:
Ultimately, it should not take poor living conditions to be the reason behind removing the academies, but instead the MLB needs to be more ethical and stop ingraining this idea of baseball being the only path to wealth for kids in the Dominican. And the only way to stop this is to educate people on how the MLB is exploiting the poverty in the DR through false hope.