In every life there are crossroads, decisions that are made that alter our lives, sometimes for the good, sometimes not so good. I have made several, including the decision to move to the Dominican Republic two years ago to pursue the creation of the Dominican Republic Sports & Education Academy.
One of the first critical decisions I made in life was picking Lincoln University (PA) to attend. I had actually wanted to go to George Washington University because I liked D.C.; my mother wanted me to attend Swarthmore College. My dad, however, reminded me of the cost of both, and pointed out that he had just finished paying for three years of private school. One of his perks as a professor at Lincoln was a free education for his children so I knew he could not complain about that. I figured a year at Lincoln and I could transfer, but the Lincoln experience proved to be so complete and wonderful that I stayed and graduated. I made friends I have held close since those days and I would match my education against any college or university. I chose the right path.
DRSEA Board retreat July 2010
Since graduating from college I have made many career choices, mostly following my love of writing to a number of newspaper jobs and to a master’s degree in journalism. I have had the privilege of writing for some of the most prestigious publications in the world.
But I felt my true calling when I first wrote about sports and saw the disparity in the industry. It was as if people of color could catch footballs, shoot basketballs, hit baseballs, run fast, and earn millions for colleges and universities, or for professional teams. But those same people of color could not coach teams, could not be sports agents, shoe manufacturers, clothing makers, could not own a piece of the industry. So I became an advocate of inclusion, for expanding minority involvement in the industry of sports.
Ultimately, that led to me actually working for a couple of organizations that wanted to challenge the sports industry on inclusion and I had varying success with both.
When I was with one of them, I fell in love with a Dominican woman who lived in New York. It was my love for her that started by love affair with the Dominican Republic. I wanted to learn all things Dominican; on my first trip here I had a sense of déjà vu, like I had been here before. In hindsight, I think it was a sense of what lay ahead for me in this country.
I jumped at the chance to continue my sports advocacy in New York, to be closer to the woman I loved. It was a path that did not work out, first with the woman and second for the job, but I was able to affect some change that I am very proud of, including a critical report in 2000 on baseball academies in the Dominican Republic that led Major League Baseball to open an office in Santo Domingo.
And, as I saw the number of Latinos increasing in baseball, particularly from the Dominican Republic, it became clear in my mind where my destiny lay. I recall a conference here I helped plan that included a number of Dominican baseball prospects. We provided them with some insight into financial planning, selecting an agent, and to acculturation, all areas MLB said they educated players about. Imagine my surprise when the first question from one of the prospects was, “How do I open a bank account?”
It was at that conference the seeds for the DRSEA were sown. The need was so clear, so apparent, as was the knowledge that MLB was not filling the educational void. My friend and associate, Harold Mendez, and I brainstormed for countless hours on solutions, knowing that we could never help everyone, but we knew we wanted to make a difference. We knew that the passion for baseball and the dreams it offered were not enough, not when 98 percent of those who make it to academies here never succeed in the majors. Harold and I felt we had to offer an alternative, knowing that it would be education, not baseball, which would provide salvation in the long run. If we could use the lure of baseball, and combine it with the power of education, we could harness something unique.
We labored over our design, but finally decided that we wanted to develop an academics and sports model, create from scratch an opportunity young baseball players could pursue that would give them the parachute they needed when baseball abandoned them, as it does all but two in 100 prospects. We rationalized that if they could do well in the classroom and on the baseball field, there would be a chance to impress colleges and universities in the United States into offering baseball scholarships. Only 5 percent of college players are Latino, but Harold and I believe that an infusion of Dominican players into the college game will do much the same as it has done for Major League Baseball.
If those Dominicans who do get college scholarships make it to the majors, wonderful. The fact is that 55 percent of the players drafted in the first four rounds of the draft, the so-called money rounds, are college players, so there is an added financial incentive to play college baseball. But the real value of college is the education it provides, and with 80 percent of Dominicans never going past the eighth grade, the need for education is clear. And with the high collateral damage in developing Dominican baseball players, to provide some with a college education, something that would permit them to be professionals in something other than baseball, is beyond logical. It makes sense to the future of the Dominican Republic because the hope of any nation lies in the education of its youth.
And so it was that I moved to the Dominican Republic two years ago, to further lay the foundation for the DRSEA, to establish the visibility and credibility needed to have the dream reach reality.
It has been an interesting, even fascinating two years that have changed my perspectives on life. A year ago I wrote in the INFORMER about my sadness and joy, frustration and exhilaration, hope and despair, satisfaction and disappointment, tranquility and fear, excitement and boredom, friendship and loneliness – the wide range of emotions that have come into play in this journey. We have found land for the dream and lost it, have had broken promises and promises kept. There have been people who have used the dream for their own profit and returned nothing. And I have had to keep in mind every day that things do not operate the same here as in the United States, that the process to accomplish things is much different and takes time and that in itself creates angst.
But every day we get one step closer, convince one more person to embrace the dream. Every day there are inquiries from teachers who want to join the project, from parents and young boys who want the education we will provide, and from college baseball teams who believe our graduates will help them raise their baseball stock.
And Major League Baseball, in the midst of a reform movement in the Dominican Republic, appears to hear our voice. A year ago, the INFORMER called for baseball to consider fingerprinting to curtail age and identity fraud among Dominican prospects; a few months ago, fingerprinting was indeed added to baseball’s reform repertoire. And, I was encouraged by a conversation with Sandy Alderson, the man baseball hired to head the reform, that education is a part of the solution to the problems plaguing baseball in the Dominican Republic, and that the DRSEA can and should be a factor in that educational process.