Last week, at the invitation of acclaimed film critic Jeffrey Lyons, I
attended the screening of Sugar. The movie depicts the journey of a young
Dominican ballplayer (Miguel "Sugar" Santos) from a baseball academy in Boca
Chica, Dominican Republic to the minor leagues in the United States. The
film makes it quite apparent that the writers, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden,
did extensive research in their effort to accurately portray what a
Dominican player experiences in his quest to become a Major League Baseball
player. What I saw on the screen that evening was as close to reality as
one could see.
There are more than 1,700 Dominican players under contract to Major League
baseball teams, including 129 Major League players and 1,635 young men who
play in the Minor Leagues. The Dominican Republic has become the primary
source of foreign talent for Major League teams. This is astounding given
the fact that Ozzie Virgil became the first Dominican Major League player in
With this large influx of Dominican players comes a variety of issues that
largely determine if the player will achieve his goal of one day becoming a
Major Leaguer. Language and cultural issues are two critical challenges
that players must confront in order to have a chance to succeed.
Fortunately, all Major League teams have recognized the need to provide
their Latino players with classes to learn the English language and other
aspects of cultural assimilation. As an industry, Major League Baseball is
fully cognizant of its social responsibility to its players in order to
ensure that the Latino player has the same opportunity to succeed as any
other aspiring Major League player.
A number of teams have gone as far as providing their players in the
Dominican Republic an opportunity to obtain their high school degrees while
at the same honing their baseball skills at their academies. Many of the
players participating in this program have learned the importance of an
education and how it can change their lives. Exercises in critical thinking
have enabled them to become better players. The game of baseball requires
the athlete to constantly make decisions and have an awareness of the
circumstances relevant to each play. There is no doubt that the educated
player is better prepared to succeed at baseball. More importantly, a
player who has adjusted to his new circumstances is more likely to excel in
life long after he has hung up his spikes.
There is little question that the growth of Latino players in Major League
Baseball will continue over time. As the numbers rise, however, it is
important to note that their contribution to the game should be measured in
another way. Their special brand of passion for the game is remarkable,
driving generations of fans in their home countries to follow their example.