A ball, a bat, a glove. Simple things that make up America's pastime.
But in the Dominican Republic, like so many Latin American countries, they represent much more, meshing families, every day life and history and influencing the future.
West Virginia University Associate Professor Gonzalo Bravo led sports management and other students to the Dominican Republic this year as part of an experiential learning program to help them understand the role sports play outside American boundaries.
“Living, observing and interacting with the real stuff provides a perspective, and sometimes a new interest in the students," Bravo said. "It helps them to make sense of the knowledge they have read or discussed in class.”
Prior to the journey, students attend a specially designed eight-week course titled “Baseball in the Dominican Republic” to learn about the historical, cultural and political background of the country, along with the cultural significance baseball plays there.
This year, seven students from the WVU College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences and one from the College of Business and Economics, joined a group of six students from the School of Hospitality in the Sport and Recreation Management program at James Madison University for a 10-day trip, May 16-26, to explore the business and culture of baseball.
During the extensive trip, students and faculty explored the unique culture of baseball in the Dominican Republic, the largest exporter of players to Major League Baseball.
Students had a first-hand look at the complex process required to produce high-caliber players, traveling to the heart of the local academies, often found in rural areas of the country or in poor sections of Santo Domingo. The road to Minor League Baseball and, eventually the MLB, does not start in the actual academies.
From almost the moment children are born, they are handed a baseball bat and glove and told to “Go play baseball.” For many young Dominicans, this career path begins as early as 8-to-10-years-old.
“Baseball is the most important passion of Dominicans. Kids are willing to drop out of school at a young age to focus mainly on the sport,” said Justin Stein, sophomore sport management student.
Students said they were most affected by a visit to village where they distributed an assortment of supplies and basic house provisions, including soap, rice, toothpaste, beans, cookies and candies.
“I believe this experience was extremely valuable not only because it made students reflect and realize what they have, but also because, despite the harsh material deprivation that we witnessed children and other villagers greeted us with big smiles,” Bravo said.
Students participated in a group dynamic with Spanish-speaking Kansas City Royals development players to help them speak and practice their knowledge of English.
The group consulted with the senior staff of Major League Baseball operations in Santo Domingo, who provided an in-depth presentation of the role MLB plays, and had the unique opportunity to meet with the Minister of Sport, who discussed the significance of sport in the life of Dominicans and how the government meets those expectations.
Students and faculty visited facilities and met with staff of the academies of several MLB teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles.
“This trip will further benefit my future career in the sport industry by giving me an insight on how operations in baseball work and by giving me more resources to network with,” Stein said.
CONTACT: Kimberly Cameon; College
of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences
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