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Leveling the Playing Field in the Dominican Republic

The hometown team’s home away from home – Professor Lisa Delpy Neirotti and students at the Washington Nationals’ baseball academy in the D.R.

The 2027 New York Yankees?

Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of tourism and sport management, and 14 GW School of Business students recently returned from an eight-day study-abroad program researching the business of baseball in the Dominican Republic. In 2009, major league teams paid out more than $37 million in signing bonuses to up-and-coming players in the D.R. Currently there are more than 60 Dominican-born players on major league rosters and hundreds more in the minors. According to a 2010 estimate, the then 77 Dominican major leaguers directly reinvested nearly $62 million (approximately 20 percent of their combined annual salaries) in the D.R. Beisbol is clearly big business in the Dominican Republic.

From Ozzie Virgil, Sr. – the first of his countrymen to reach the majors – to the great Juan Marichal (“The Dominican Dandy”) to today’s superstars – Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes and reigning American League home-run champion Jose Bautista – players from the D.R. have been prominently represented in Major League Baseball. Their numbers are extraordinarily disproportionate to the tiny nation’s population of just under 10 million. Why does the Dominican Republic produce so many excellent ballplayers? Dominican kids eat, sleep, live and breathe baseball. “Baseball is the only game that the kids know, play and care about,” Neirotti said.

Major league demand for Dominican ballplayers is at an all-time high. As a result, all 30 major league teams have established baseball academies in country, investing millions of dollars (academy operating costs were nearly $18 million in 2009) in developing the next generation of Dominican stars. Neirotti and her group, which included undergraduates as well as graduate students, visited 14 different team-operated academies and met with team executives, player development personnel and players. The GWSB group also learned about the sometimes shady buscones (local combination coaches/scouts/agents) who act as middlemen in contract negotiations, usually for a healthy cut of the players’ signing bonuses.

The students concluded that, overall, the young major league hopefuls are well cared for and receive expert coaching, physical conditioning, bed and board, quality nutrition and some level of classroom education. MLB requires that team-operated academies provide English language lessons for the players. Some organizations go even farther in making up for the generally poor quality of education available in the Dominican Republic. Last year, Neirotti said, the academy run by the Pittsburgh Pirates helped six of its players earn high school diplomas.

According to Neirotti, the information gathered during the trip will form the basis of two major research projects. The group will prepare for Commissioner Bud Selig’s office a white paper with recommendations for MLB’s proposed implementation of a formal international player draft (currently planned for 2016) to replace the essentially unregulated competition among teams for top foreign prospects. For the other project, students will work with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to capitalize on baseball tourism in the Dominican Republic. An obvious attraction for fans interested in getting a sneak preview of the next generation of major league superstars, the baseball academies could prove to be a major source of tourism revenue for the Dominican economy.

Posted by gwsb on June 21, 2011 | Filed under: GWSB News.

1 Comment »

  1. Another article about the trip:

    Comment by Rob — June 29, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

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