More than 50 baseball players from the Dominican Republic will be playing in the major and minor leagues in the U.S. this summer—the exact number is uncertain because the Braves have signed several more and the Cardinals are considering others—which makes the island one of the world's major per capita producers of baseball talent.
Every citizen in the Republic knows it and is proud. Only six years ago Dominicans were electrified because one player had made the big leagues. A history of Dominican baseball noted that Osvaldo Virgil (generally known as Ossie Virgil when he played with the Giants and the Tigers) had become primero en grandes ligas (first in major leagues). Last summer there were 44 Dominican players in the U.S., eight of them major league regulars, two of them stars in the pennant race and the World Series, and nine of them in the minors batting well over .300. Also one Dominican was being hit by pitched balls more frequently than anyone else.
If you walk into the office of the director general of sport in Santo Domingo these days, a pleasant building that was formerly the residence of Arismendi Trujillo, brother of the late dictator, you encounter a wholesome satisfaction that the rest of the world has at last awakened to a knowledge of how good the local players really are. Dominican fans are enthusiasts anyway, and with them enthusiasm is enduring: it seems that the performance of Felipe and Matty Alou and Juan Marichal with the Giants these last two seasons will live forever, along with the record (or at least the astounding start) of Manuel Emilio Jimenez, who batted .379 in his first seven weeks at Kansas City, and the amazing career of a rich Dominican dairy farmer and big league pitcher, Diomedes Olivo, 43 years old (SI, July 16), who played his first game of baseball at the age of 24 and is now with the Cardinals after starring with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But Dominicans are equally enthusiastic about players you never heard of and will gladly tell you about Felix Santana, the adroit second baseman who finished second among the Panama League batters with an average of .337; or Jesus Alou, the 19-year-old younger brother of Felipe, who batted .347 in the Venezuelan League; or Ricardo Carty, the 6-foot 2-inch catcher (or receptor gigante, as the papers always refer to him) who batted .366 with Yakima last year and was signed a fortnight ago by the Braves; Rodolfo Welch, who batted .304 in the winter instructional league in Arizona and is believed by his fans to be headed for a regular berth with the Pirates; or Pedro Gonàlez of Richmond, a Yankee farmhand who could play second base on almost any major league team and remains where he is only because Bobby Richardson has been performing in an entirely adequate fashion. Julian Javier batted .263 with the Cardinals and, while Manuel Mota (now with the Colts) and Amado Samuel (with the Braves) were barely starting their major league careers, the record as a whole suggests that Dominican enthusiasm is warranted. What it doesn't suggest is an intangible element, a legendary quality, something like the achievement of Jim Thorpe and Chief Bender and the Carlisle Indians in the days of Pop Warner.
February 25, 1963
Felipe Alou, for instance, batted .380 in his first year of Class D ball with Cocoa in Florida. In his first 20 games at Springfield, Mass. he stole 15 bases. Called up by the Giants from Phoenix in midseason in 1958, he hit the first pitch his first time at bat into left field for a single. Last season his astounding record against Dodger pitching—in one three-game series he got eight hits, two of them home runs, in 12 times at bat to score seven runs—came to a climax in the playoff game when he was walked and scored the winning run.
Called up by the Giants in the mid-season of 1960 from Tacoma (where he had won six of his last eight starts), Marichal pitched a one-hitter in what was called one of the most astonishing debuts in big league history. He followed it with a four-hit, 3-1 victory over Pittsburgh and a 3-2 win over Milwaukee. Then the next year another Marichal one-hitter dislodged the Dodgers from first place. And last year he pitched 18 complete games out of 36 starts, defeating the Dodgers twice. In one victory he struck out 13 for a 12-3 win, to cut the Dodger lead to a half a percentage point. In the other he won a 3-0 shutout. And a lot of Giant fans believe that the Giants would have won the World Series if Marichal hadn't been injured.
Diomedes Olivo seems to be the only baseball player in major league history who learned the game as an adult. He grew up in banana-farming country near Monte Cristi (where Marichal grew up on a rice farm), and there wasn't any chance to play in that area. "I farmed with my father," he says, seeming to feel that this explains everything. After he picked up the elements of the game when well along in years, he devised a furious windmill wind-up that looks like an imitation of a baseball pitcher by someone who has read a book on how to pitch. With this, Olivo developed a blazing sidearm fast ball, a screwball that seems to deteriorate as it approaches the plate, a curve and a slider; and he played 15 years of ball in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, meanwhile building up two farms outside Santo Domingo. In his first year at Columbus, Ohio he worked in 42 games, the next year in 66 and came out with a 2.01 earned run average, winding up last year at Pittsburgh with five wins and one loss.
All this suggests the presence of legendary elements in Dominican baseball, and the players generally bear it out in their private lives as well. Manuel Emilio Jimenez, the Kansas City star, came out of the little sugar-mill town of Consuelo, where he worked for three years in the mill for $1.45 a day to help support his nine brothers and sisters. In the Dominican air force he played on the service team, which has a historic baseball rivalry with the teams of the army and the navy, the service team games being major sporting events in the Dominican Republic. His teammates included Juan Marichal, Pedro Gonàlez, Manuel Mota, Donaldo Rivas, (now with Tacoma) and Ricardo Joseph. ("We win every year," says Marichal, chuckling. "Nobody can beat that team.") A widely publicized battle with Owner Charles Finley (who ordered him to try for homers) weakened his performance at Kansas City the latter part of last season, but he still wound up with an average of .301.
Felipe Alou is a relaxed, lightly powerful young athlete, now 27, who lives with his wife and three young children in a small house on a side street in Santo Domingo. He goes spearfishing three times a week on the average, and on the other days coaches Dominican youngsters in the Babe Ruth League. He speaks English with a slow and natural accuracy; in San Francisco he teaches on Sunday nights in a Bible class in a Baptist church. A reporter once wrote that Alou began doing this because he was lonely in a foreign country. "No," says Alou. "I just like the Gospels," and his speech has an occasional old-English flavor. In Santo Domingo he has the sort of public esteem that is given to Stan Musial in St. Louis.
Marichal lives six blocks away. He is a round-faced, friendly, unself-conscious individual with an engaging humor and a restless interest in everything. He is now 25 and, like Alou, a coach of the Babe Ruth League teams three days a week. His household consists of his charming wife and 3-month-old daughter. Marichal says he can't remember when he didn't play ball. He was shortstop on his school team. He had an idol, a great pitcher, Bombo Ramos, who used to come to Monte Cristi to play in Sunday games. Later he came to admire Cuban Hector Rodriguez, who played in the Republic, and went to see him whenever he could. In 1955 his school won the baseball championship of Monte Cristi over seven other schools.
That summer Marichal was given a job in a sugar mill in Manzanillo so he could play on its baseball team. This was the first time he ever had had a uniform, baseball shoes and good equipment. He wanted to be a pilot and eventually joined the air force, but his mother did not want him to fly. Baseball solved the family dilemma, because the team didn't have time to do any training except for its baseball games. From the air force Marichal went directly into professional ball. In his first game with Tacoma he was astonished to see a familiar figure walk up to the plate to bat for San Diego. It was Hector Rodriguez, one of his favorite players. "I said, 'I never thought I'd pitch to you,' " Marichal recalls. "I pitched to him another time. He got two hits in two games."
Marichal likes to hunt in the mountain country near Monte Cristi—he got 85 birds on his first day this year—and usually goes spearfishing with Felipe Alou several days a week. They fish near the town of Haina, 12 miles from Santo Domingo, where Alou was born, and they come home with half a dozen four-to-six-pound lobsters on a good day. In the family society of the Dominican Republic, with its widespread network of relatives and soaring food prices, all such bounty is needed.
Ordinarily the four big professional teams of the country would be winding up their season right now. But this year the Dominican League suspended operations in the interests of domestic tranquillity, and the fans have had to focus on the amateurs. In Santo Domingo, it is currently a season of unfiltered blue skies, overdecorated shrubbery and light, billowing breezes. In the Campos de Deportes, just north of the city, a dozen or so blocks from the Ozama River, where Columbus' men settled in 1496, there is the pleasant, sharp, New World sound of a baseball bat hitting a baseball, the solid plunk of a ball in a catcher's mitt and the deceptively aimless hullabaloo that rises as a couple of hundred boys, 60 of them in uniform, practice or watch the practice on the four diamonds in the park. A brilliant aggregation representing the nation's movie houses recently lost to the baseball team of the national police, and the team of Farmacia San Lorenzo beat Tractores Fordson 11-5 in the championship series of the Babe Ruth League. They played in a stadium of the University of Santo Domingo, with virtually the whole roster of Dominican baseball notables acting as umpires or lending their weight to the occasion—Olivo, Alou, Jimenez, Marichal and Horacio Martínez, who is more responsible than anyone else for the development of Dominican baseball.
As things turned out, the suspension of the professional league was unnecessary. After Trujillo's assassination there were fears of riots or of a coup d'√®tat, or at least of political unrest that might make excitable crowds dangerous on the eve of the presidential election. Dominican baseball crowds are powerfully vocal. Every team has its own song, sung during the seventh-inningstretch—Campana (The Bell), the song of Santiago; Lena (Firewood), the song of Escogido; and Cana Brava (Superior Sugar Cane), the song of the Estrellas Orientales—and even in ordinary times the tumult during a close game can be astonishing. Dominican fans like a game of imagination and audacity as well—which gives rise to even more stentorian outcries. A championship game in 1948 was decided by a double steal in the 11th inning, whereupon, wrote the baseball correspondent of La Nacion, "the people gave a tremendous shout!" So it may have seemed prudent not to add the excitement of the sport to political tension.
However, baseball could have been played daily without disturbing public safety in the slightest. Just before Christmas more than a million previously voteless citizens went quietly to the polls and by secret ballot elected a long-standing anti-Trujillo exile, Dr. Juan Bosch, by a better than 2-to-1 majority, without fights, riots or disorder, as if the entire nation had decided to give a demonstration of democratic goodwill in action.
There was one baseball event in the preelection period, a series of exhibition games that gave the fans their first chance to see the returning big leaguers in action. They turned out 19,000 strong for the opening game. Professional games are night games in the Dominican Republic, and that was certainly one night when political unrest on a Caribbean island might have been warranted. It was the time of the crisis over Cuba, when President Kennedy warned that the U.S. Navy was going to intercept Russian ships. The game turned out to be a better-than-average all-star affair. Felipe Alou got two doubles and a single in four times at bat. Roberto Pena had a double and a single, and so did Elvio Jimenez, the younger brother of the Kansas City star, who ordinarily plays for Amarillo. There was quite a bit of tension that night in Cuba, which is 350 miles from Santo Domingo, but in the superb Quisqueya Stadium in the first city in the Western Hemisphere there was nothing but good baseball, noisy relaxation and cheers.
Nobody knows what local Abnero Doubleday first smoothed down the fertile Dominican earth, measured out the base lines and taught the peloteros the rules. But everyone agrees that the contemporary boom is primarily the result of the work of Horacio Martínez, the greatest shortstop in the history of the country, the discoverer and trainer of Alou and Marichal, the scout for the Giants, the athletic director of the University of Santo Domingo, the guide and counselor of innumerable Dominican boys who wanted to play baseball. If the Dominican players constantly remind one of the Carlisle Indians, Martínez is the Pop Warner of Dominican sport. He lives in a pleasant, tree-shaded, green-and-white house in a moderately wealthy section of Santo Domingo, an alert, soft-spoken man who gives the impression of being agreeably surprised about something. "When I started playing ball in Santiago we played with gloves we made ourselves," he said. "I made my glove out of a sail—out of a piece of canvas."
That was around 1929. But who had started the game in the first place? "The existence of trustworthy data indicates that baseball was introduced into the Dominican Republic in 1891," says Dr. Tirso Valdez in his Notas Acerca del Beisbol Dominicano del Pasado y del Presente, adding, however, that it seems to have been a primitive form of the game. The usual story is that baseball was first played in the country by a Puerto Rican teacher who had learned it from American visitors in Puerto Rico, and that it spread from one Dominican town to another as if the natives were born to it. By 1907 there was an outstanding team, the Licey Club in the city of Santo Domingo, which for more than a decade dominated the game and walloped the casual aggregations of amateurs who got together to play against it. There was even a national championship of some sort. The Antun family of San Pedro de Macorís, which owns the Estrellas Orientales, one of the major professional teams, possesses a Dominican championship trophy that dates back to 1911.
One reason why the native fans cherish such dates is that the claim is often made that U.S. troops introduced baseball during the American occupation from 1916 to 1924. They didn't. Dominicans had been playing ball long before. In fact, an American history of the country, written in 1917, lists baseball along with bicycle racing as a popular Dominican sport, and the U.S. occupation didn't begin until November 29, 1916. The late Sumner Welles, diplomat and Under Secretary of State, began his career with a definitive two-volume study of the Dominican Republic, describing the American occupation as a ghastly international blunder, an administrative catastrophe and a national disgrace. Welles concluded that the worst charges of critics of the American policy were true, since the occupation began with a policy of repression "during which many atrocities were undoubtedly committed" and which left a feeling of bitter hostility against the people of the U.S. "which will undoubtedly continue for many years." So there is no possibility that the natives picked up baseball in those first months of the occupation, though American games in the later years may have increased local interest.
In 1919—that is, during the third year of the American occupation—a Venezuelan named Numa Parra decided that it was hopeless pitting the weak local teams against all-powerful Licey and began combing all the teams for their best players to form a club that could provide real competition. The players chosen became known as the Escogido Club, meaning "selected." (The "Lions" was added later, and the Licey players became the Licey Tigers.) There was consequently a genuine test of ability within the country, in which players could be appraised competitively, and almost at once international tests began as well. In 1920 a Cuban team, the Almendares, on its way to Puerto Rico, stopped in Santo Domingo. A game was arranged with Escogido. History doesn't say who won, but the event was so popular with Dominican fans that every year thereafter a Cuban team visited the Dominican Republic, always billed as the Almendares, no matter what they were called at home.
Horacio Martínez, who played in some of these Cuban games in later years, was the Licey shortstop. He says that his early career was typical: he was interested in all sorts of sport in school, track and field and volleyball, and focused on baseball because a friend of his, Sijo Gómez, a pitcher, played in Negro ball in the States and talked to him on his return. In 1932 Martínez started professional ball with the San Juan Giants in Puerto Rico. It was in 1930 that General Doctor Rafael Leonidas Trujillo had become President, soon adding such titles as Benefactor of the Fatherland, Director Supreme of the Dominican Party and Maximo Protector of Sport to his distinctions, and, while travel abroad was strictly forbidden under the dictatorship, international baseball had become so firmly established and so popular that an exception was made for the players. Indeed, almost the only way a young man could get permission to leave the country was to be signed by one of the leagues abroad. And the fame of the local players was growing. In October 1933 a team from Richmond visited Santo Domingo and lost to Licey 6-5. Martínez at short had a chance to see a pretty good U.S. team in action, since Johnny Mize was then starring at first base for Richmond. It was before Mize made a name for himself in the majors by batting .364 with the Cardinals. Three weeks later a Cuban team—"another version of the Almendares," says Dr. Valdez—lost to Escogido 6-5. Two months later a Venezuelan team came through Santo Domingo, with Luis Aparicio (the father of the former White Sox star), Johnny Mize, Jimmy Jordan and Joshua Gibson, the legendary Negro catcher from Pittsburgh. Gibson later played with Satchel Paige on the Estrellas Orientales of San Pedro, batting .453 in the Dominican phase of his remarkable career. Roy Campanella has said that Gibson was the best catcher he ever saw, Joe DiMaggio said he was the most natural hitter in baseball, and Dizzy Dean said he was the best right-handed batter of all time. Dominican fans made it simpler: they said Joshua Gibson was the greatest ballplayer that ever lived. Alex Pompez, one of the organizers of the Negro leagues in the U.S., handled most of the arrangements for Dominican players, and in 1935 Martínez signed with the New York Cubans in the Negro National League, playing two or three times a week in the old Dyckman Street Oval that stood near the Hudson River half a mile from the Polo Grounds.
Martínez has a big scrapbook of what is probably some of the rarest baseball lore in existence, the clippings and records of the wanderings of such natural players as Satchel Paige, Gibson, Raymond Brown, Martin Negro and Alonzo Perry in the days when Negroes were excluded from the big leagues. Martínez was known as The Rabbit, and his amiable, grinning features decorated the sport pages of innumerable small Negro weeklies and occasionally appeared in larger periodicals along with vivid shots of light-footed action. Martínez was one of the sources of the legend in the U.S. that Dominican players excelled as infielders because they played on hard-packed clay diamonds; their spectacular bounds and leaping catches were considered inexplicable otherwise. Asked about this, Martínez looks uncomprehending: fields were of all sorts. (Diomedes Olivo, looking at it from a pitcher's point of view, says if you could play on a hard diamond, "Good!—very good!") On the Negro league circuit, Martínez played in Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis and the southern cities, making longer trips for exhibition games with players like Paige and Gibson, who drew good crowds. Like most Dominicans, who do not experience racial segregation at home, Martínez did not share the sense of exclusion—or the bitterness—of many U.S. Negro ballplayers, and places like Savannah and Charleston, as well as New York, were romantic and hospitable for him. "I loved the United States," he says. "I am a Dominican, and I am a citizen of the Dominican Republic, but I still loved the United States too."
How good was the Dominican baseball of that time? When the Cincinnati Reds visited Santo Domingo in 1936, the first major league team to do so, they won their games, but the scores aren't an exact measure of abilities. Martínez played with the Licey team, which led the Reds in the top half of the ninth, with two out. Kiki Cuyler came to bat. At 36 he was on the verge of his best season with Cincinnati, with a .326 average. He hit a line drive that went straight to the right fielder. The fielder was a tragic figure in Dominican baseball, Mimo Estrella Saint Clair, who played under the name of Pepe Lucas. His brother played under the name of Pepito Lucas. They were two of the top-ranking ballplayers in the history of Dominican sport. But Pepe Lucas was then only beginning his career. He had only to raise his hands and catch the ball, and Santo Domingo would have defeated the first major, league team to invade the island. "All the chroniclers of the time agree," says Dr. Valdez in his history of baseball, "that anyone could have caught it." But Pepe didn't raise his hands. The final out became a double. Pepe became weighted with the burden of an error that is still a lively topic of discussion among baseball fans. (Another prime subject for after-dinner talk is speculating whether a team of Latin American all-stars couldn't beat an all-star team from the States.) Anyway, Cincinnati won by a score of 4-2.
Most of the accounts of visiting journalists credited Trujillo with a genuine interest in baseball, and sports generally, no matter how critical they were of other aspects of the dictatorship. They cited his building of big baseball stadiums at government expense and the annual government subsidy of $100,000 to help the professional teams. Local comment has grown a good deal more candid since his dictatorship collapsed, however, and it is doubtful if even this part of his activities will be remembered as a public benefaction. Professional ball virtually disappeared after 1937 and didn't revive until well after the war. Trujillo's taste ran toward the big, flag-bedecked festival and tournament. Travel outside the country being forbidden, he organized something he called "the Dominican national Olympic games" as compensation. There was even an Olympic baseball championship.
On January 11, 1948 an all-star team from Santiago was playing in the national championship tournament with the Estrellas del Sur, the Stars of the South, at Barahona, on the southern coast across the island. Santiago hadn't lost a tournament game: Estrellas del Sur hadn't won one. The Santiago pitcher was Bombo Ramos (the pitching hero of Marichal in his boyhood), and the Estrellas pitcher was Vitico Ruiz, who came on in relief. Ruiz was known as Alambrito, meaning Telephone Pole, because he was so uncommonly tall and thin. Santiago was expected to win this game, for it had half a dozen of the best players in the country on its team. There were Pedro Bàez, known as Grillo-A—"One of the very best," says Olivo—and Loro Escalante, as well as Pepito and Pepe Lucas, the unfortunate fielder who muffed Kiki Cuyler's drive, all players who ranked with the best of the Dominicans now in the major leagues. But all baseball is unpredictable, especially Dominican baseball, and the score was still tied 5-5 in the bottom of the 11th inning. This was the game made memorable by a double steal. The Estrellas runner on second started for third. The runner on first broke for second. Did they expect a play at third, a run back to second and a chance that the ball would be thrown away? The contemporary accounts are confused. Apparently there was an attempted play at second, the ball was thrown away and the run scored. Or maybe the play at second was successful, and the ball was thrown away at the plate. In any event, Estrellas del Sur won.
But it was now late. The Santiago plane leaving for home ran into one of the evening storms that plunge the island into darkness in an instant. At Santiago the storm had knocked out the airport lights, and the pilot turned back south trying to reach Santo Domingo. The wreckage was found on a peak in the wild Rio Verde country, miles from anywhere. The 32 dead included almost all the top-ranking players in the country. Loro Escalante, the brothers Pepe and Pepito Lucas, Bombo Ramos and Grillo-A were alone the nucleus of a big league team. What made the tragedy doubly bitter was that a Dodger team, with Jackie Robinson in the lineup, was soon to be playing in the Dominican Republic: the color line had ended in the big leagues in the States. There weren't enough players left to put up even a token opposition to a Dodger team that included Robinson, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Carl Furillo, Preacher Roe, Cookie Lavagetto, Bobby Bragan, Gene Mauch, with Leo Durocher as its manager. So the Dodgers (who trained in Santo Domingo that year) played exhibition games with Montreal. Local interest was such that the Dodgers cleared $40,000 and Montreal $20,000.
But Dominican baseball had to start over. The progress in the 15 years since the tragedy can safely be called impressive. Fifty-odd Dominican players starting for spring training in the U.S. this year make up a powerful body of contenders. In fact, the biggest part of the comeback has taken place in the past five years. "This place is baseball-crazy," a correspondent wrote after visiting Santo Domingo in 1959. He was referring to crowds of 4,000 (paying 30¢ to $1.25 a seat) at the stadiums Trujillo built. But crowds of 12,000 were not uncommon. Even Trujillo's figures, deliberately falsified on the low side, ran to a total of about 500,000 for the four teams in their 54-game winter series. When the professional league was organized in 1951, Escogido was taken over by Trujillo's brother-in-law, Francisco Martínez Alba, and the dictator's influence was felt immediately: he wouldn't let the best players go to other teams. A scout for the Yankees, for instance, was sent to San Isidro Air Base to sign Pedro Gonàlez. Marichal happened to be pitching that day, and the scout signed both Marichal and Gonàlez. The government approved the Gonàlez deal, but it turned out that Marichal had been promised by Trujillo to Escogido. "Trujillo always had his favorites," an official says. "It worked like this: the government owned the stadiums, so they handled everything, sold admissions, took tickets and called up after the game and said, 'Your attendance was so-and-so,' maybe a couple thousand, when you could see that the stands were nearly full. So you might have a great team, fine crowds, and lose $60,000."
Insofar as Trujillo's personal tastes were involved, he favored leisure-class sports like horse racing and yachting, in keeping with his claimed descent from the conquistadors, who followed Columbus. However, he made a point of supporting baseball, and each stadium was equipped with a private presidential box that contained the best features of a bomb shelter and a seraglio, but obviously he had no notion of what baseball meant to the Dominican people. He may have felt that his private boxes were neither lavish nor ridiculous but, on the contrary, were designed with appropriate, commonsense comfort. But they just weren't places in which to enjoy a baseball game. Some of these private presidential boxes were the size of a small ballroom and generally resembled one. Power-operated picture windows opened and closed at the touch of a switch by the chair of the Maximo Protector of Sport. A line of 20 red-leather easy chairs ran along the windows overlooking the diamond. Behind the chairs, screened from the sight of the crowd, there was a handsome green-walled lounge complete with a sofa, paintings on the wall, a high-fidelity set, an adjoining bar and kitchen, and a couple of marble bathrooms that would have been approved by the plumbing inspector of Pompeii. The builder of these sybaritic sporting headquarters simply had no notion whatever of why his subjects enjoyed the game.
What did it mean to them? "Baseball is a part of the life of the Dominican village," wrote Dr. Valdez, in his Notas Acerca del Beisbol. "Through it the village experiences moments of happiness, when its team realizes its desires and wins, or passing moments of dejection, if a defeat becomes a rout...but above all, the village experiences the hope that always prevails in baseball of coming from behind or winning the next game."
Usually the village consists of a few hundred people living in diminutive-roomed little houses ranged unevenly along the roads. The doors and windows stand open, and the front room, with its bed, rocking chair and religious chromo on the wall, suggests those stage sets at different levels which enable you to watch several dramas going on simultaneously. In the center of town there is usually a water faucet (one of Trujillo's great claims to benevolence was that he provided water for the villagers) and usually a bevy of astoundingly graceful girls filling buckets of water to bring home. Sometimes the town store has a front porch. In any case, the ground is hard-packed around it, and there are often intent youngsters playing catch. In the most remote village there will be a boy wearing a baseball cap and carrying a glove.
Eighty percent of the population is rural. Along the roads that run through the cane fields from one town to another more or less like it, the foot travelers are spaced about every quarter of a mile along the way, coming and going—women pacing placidly along under umbrellas in the sunlight, or whole families in motion, with the youngest child riding a burro, or squads of sugar-cane workers swinging machetes—and among them boys with baseball caps. "The villagers were sports-minded to begin with," says Dr. Valdez; "a fervent admiration of skills requiring intelligence and muscle was part of their inheritance." For decades the game was played only for the satisfaction of the players. Nobody thought to make a career of it. It reached into the deepest springs of community loyalty, an expression of an emotional tie with others rather than a field for individual exploits.
And sometimes the meaning of the game was obvious. Away back from the company houses near the sugar mills you sometimes come on clusters of gray wooden shacks that house an overflow population of occasional workers in the mills or cane fields. There are no stucco houses in these places; the shacks look like the sort of playhouses that kids put together from boxes and pieces of scrap lumber in the woods. The black earth is damp, and people cook on open fires in the winding, alleylike opening between the shacks. The worst Negro slum of a southern town in the U.S. is a model garden city in comparison with it. The poverty is beyond comprehension, suggesting something out of an African compound, or a settlement in the Virginia of Captain John Smith. For a boy to come back to a town of this sort, after playing baseball in Hobbs, N. Mex. or Grand Rapids is more than a test of his playing ability.
When Felipe Alou signed to play with the Giant farm team he went first to Lake Charles, La. as one of a group of five players who, it was hoped, would modify the segregationist sentiment of the area. After five games the hostility was so powerful that the experiment was abandoned and the players sent to other clubs. For Alou the experience was puzzling; he batted only .222 there, hardly what was expected of him. "They drove us out of town," he says. "But it wasn't the local people who were so unfriendly. It was that governor"—he meant Earl Long—"and he sent word down to Lake Charles, 'Get them out of there.' " In Cocoa, Fla., where he was made welcome, he got 169 hits in 119 games, and he still keeps in touch with people he came to know then, some of them traveling to New York to watch him play in the World Series.
"Most of the boys who play baseball here are pretty good boys," says Horacio Martínez. In other societies sports often appeal to a reckless or an easygoing part of the youthful population, especially in poor neighborhoods, but the young Dominicans tended to be good providers, hard workers and good students in school; playing baseball was part of their more responsible view of the world. "It's a question of character," says Martínez. "Felipe's mother wanted him to be a doctor. When he started at the university he used to run to school every morning from Haina, 12 miles, to keep in condition. When I tried to sign him for the Giants, his mother said no. She didn't want him to be a ballplayer. She wanted him to be a doctor. But I had his father on my side. Finally she agreed to let him play for a year. If he didn't make it I agreed to pay for his education for the year he missed."
The former mansion of Arismendi Trujillo that now houses the Sports Department is filled with a steady parade of aspiring boxers, volleyball players, track and field managers, basketball coaches, trainers, groundkeepers and the battered former athletes who seem to haunt gymnasiums in every land. They file into the wide, tiled entrance foyer, then into the former parlor that has been made into a reception room, and then into an inner parlor where the Director General of Sports sits behind a magnificent carved rosewood desk formerly owned by Arismendi. They are mostly young and eager, and bear crumpled scraps of paper on which are written the dates of games and lineups. "I've been teaching kids to play ball for 20 years," says a Sports Department employee, "and every year there have been more kids turning out." Now the reputation of the Dominicans in the States has brought out more than ever before. What do you need? he was asked. "Nothing," he said. "Just bats and balls and gloves."
Out in the Campos de Deportes recently a former Dominican star—a brother of Pedro Bàez, who was killed in the crash of the Santiago team—was laying down grounders for infield practice with the Farmacia Bàez team. Gray-haired and good-natured, with a quiet, commanding poise, he placed the ball on one side or the other of short and second base, and the boys went through the long reach and sweep, and the turn and throw to first in one continuous motion that seems to be a universal virtue in baseball, something that can be recognized without having to be taught. "Nobody taught us in the old days," says Bàez. "If you played baseball then there was only one reason: you played because you liked to play. There wasn't any difference between professionals and amateurs. I became a professional because I played with a team that charged admission. I was the youngest player on the team, and I went along for two weeks. At the end of the trip all the money that had been taken in was divided up. Do you know how much I got? Sixteen cents. Now a lot of the boys are playing baseball because they want to get into the big leagues. But in those days nobody played unless he loved baseball."
Last November a group of Cuban players arrived for their exhibition series with the Dominican All-Stars just as the crisis over the Russian missile sites in Cuba came to a climax. "The Cuban government didn't arrange the trip," says a Dominican player. "The Cuban players arranged it. Most ballplayers there can't do any work. So they tried to arrange the games to make a little money."
As baseball, the eight-game series was even enough, with the Cuban strength built around such veteran big leaguers as Camilio Pascual, Orlando Pena and Pedro Ramos. The Dominicans won the first three, all close, lost one, won another squeaker and then dropped three in a row to make it four apiece. Elvio Jimenez got 12 hits in five games, Julian Javier had nine, and Alou in one game got four hits in four times at bat. There were three minor disturbances: in San Pedro de Macon's a group of men ran out on the field bearing a banner that read CUBA SERA LIBRE!; in Santiago a group ran out carrying a banner that read FIDEL CASTRO—ASESINO!; and in Santo Domingo, in the last game played there, two groups ran across the field, one carrying a banner that read CUBA SERA LIBRE and the other one that read FIDEL CASTRO—ASESINO! They created no more trouble than a similar sign-bearer in Yankee Stadium in 1961. The players collected about $750 apiece for their share, and the returns from one game were given to charity. "Marichal and me, we're having a little problem," says Alou. "It's Frick's office. They fined us $250 for playing unauthorized games with the Cubans. And now I get a letter saying I'll be ineligible to play unless the fine is paid before the season starts." The Dominican players argue that since the regular season was canceled the exhibition series provided the local fans with their only chance to see the returning big leaguers play after their season in the States. If they had refused to play, it would have seemed the worst case of swelled head in history. Alou and Marichal are disposed to resist the fine as a matter of principle; Horacio Martínez says that something can be worked out.
But the memorable fact about the Cuban series was that it brought to a full circle the span of history that began when the Almendares landed in Santo Domingo to play 40 years ago. And this year, as was the case then, it was the Dominican fans who made the occasion historic. They turned out in crowds of 17,000 to 19,000 a night. They watched the games while the biggest political crisis in the West Indies steadily mounted. They filled the stadium one night after the police of Santo Domingo had announced the discovery of a plot to blow up 42 key sites in the metropolis. They enjoyed the games. The correspondent who wrote that Santo Domingo was baseball-crazy was wrong. It was the sanest place in the Caribbean.