The Dominican Republic Sports & Education Academy is now scheduled to open in January 2013, bringing the dream to reality. It has taken a lot of effort, an enormous amount of blood, sweat and tears, and while it may not be opening on the scale we had once hoped it would, we have much to be proud of what we have accomplished since my co-founder, Harold Mendez, and I first started discussing the concept back in 2005.
The need has been evident much longer, dating back to 2000 when I led a delegation at Major League Baseball’s behest to take a look at its teams’ academies in the Dominican Republic and finding so many of them lacking, particularly in educational opportunities. Some of the academies were fantastic and reminded me of some of the camps where I spent summers when I was young, but many – most – were decrepit beyond belief, including one that had a dormitory that looked more like a jail. After my report was filed, MLB opened an office in the Dominican Republic for the first time.
In 2004, I was part of a group that held a conference in the Dominican Republic on Latino participation in the sports industry. We invited prospects from MLB teams to sessions on financial planning, on picking a sports agent, on acculturation. I will never forget that the first question asked by one of these prospects was, “How do I open a bank account?”
I think it was that moment that convinced Harold and me that things needed to change. Here was an industry in one of the poorest countries in the world that puts over $125 million annually into the economy of the Dominican Republic to mine the country for baseball talent. Here is an industry where only two in 100 prospects succeeds. Here is an industry dependent on the talents of 16-year-olds, many who cannot point on map where they live. It is as if baseball is willing to plant 100 apples trees, yet let the fruit rot on 98, harvesting from just two.
I grew up in a family where education had been the salvation, had been the vehicle to escape poverty, had been the commodity that once obtained cannot be taken away.
The main goal of the DRSEA was, and remains, to position young Dominican baseball players academically and athletically to receive scholarships to U.S. colleges and universities, but along the way we have also become an advocate for reform in baseball in the Dominican Republic. Much of what we advocated – addressing age and identity fraud, eliminating steroid usage, and education for prospects in MLB academies – has been embraced by MLB and its academies, but much is left to be done, and the DRSEA intends to remain a key voice for baseball players in the Dominican Republic.
I remember when I first arrived in the Dominican Republic and a colleague at the time basically said that some people were not embracing the DRSEA, didn’t believe in the project, because they perceived me a dreamer. I told her it was a label that I not only embrace, but covet.
Where are we without dreams? I wonder what would have happened if, 35 or so years ago, someone had pulled young Barack Obama aside and told him not to dream of being president of the United States?
What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the hot Dominican sun, withering and disappearing? Maybe it stinks like rotten meat, becoming a sickening reminder of what will never be? Perhaps the dream will crust and sugar over, like a sweet pineapple left in the night air? Or does the deferred dream explode, the obvious severity of a postponed dream.
The DRSEA is a dream I refuse to defer, and now we stand on the brink of reality. I think my dad would be proud.