Platano Power

The Dominican Republic is united like no other event could unite them. It’s the international baseball tournament and they are hoping to win again after the undefeated 8-0 run to the championship in 2013. On my weekend trip to the capital, every TV set there and in the city of San Juan de la Maguana was tuned into the tournament. Baseball is the national sport (well, apart from dominoes) and everyone is following along looking forward to the moment of victory.

Backing up a bit, the baseball team here is the shining gem in the community. Last year Bridges (the company I am working for here) got a member of the community to donate a piece of flatish land to the youth center they were building. After making it much closer to flat, they installed a backstop as well as cement stands on both sides. Though far short of even the most rundown fields in suburban US, it is unequivocally the nicest field in the area. Between the field and the 40 donated gloves, catcher’s equipment, and real bases, the youth of Derrumbadero have the most luxurious baseball set up for miles. And they play like a team that has won divine favor.

I’ve been to four or five games so far, and Derrumbadero has won every single one. The first game I witnessed I only saw the last three innings (they play 7 innings here), where we went from losing 4-3 to winning 7-4. The second, we came from behind 3-0 in the first to blow out the other team 17-10 or so. The third, I played first base for the first four innings, as it was the younger kids and they wanted to show off their Americano (my first game of baseball ever!!!) We came from behind 5-0 to win it 7-6 with two runs in the final inning. Next came a sunny Sunday game that gave me terrible sunburn on my legs but was worth every second of pain. We got down 7-0 in the first two innings and then suddenly turned on the power. By the fourth, we were up 8-7, and after getting up 15-7, coasted to a 16-12 or so win.

There are around 50 or 60 kids in the town who play on the two teams. There is little here in the way of adult supervision, role modeling, or attempts to build life-long learners out of the children. However the two managers of the teams are somewhat remarkable in how they run things. At once fun and firm, these young men are only a few years older than most of the players, and the same age as some of them. At 22 or 23, they are both part time students at a university a hour or so away. They keep track of the lineup, hold onto the extra baseballs so they don’t all disappear, and most importantly enforce team spirit and make sure the boys are all building each other up instead of fighting. One of my favorite moments watching one of the managers, Xavier, was when he got dressed down by the only father who ever watches (presumably because he had a broken arm, as I haven’t seen him since his cast came off two weeks ago) because he had let two of the boys tell another boy that he hadn’t run hard enough for first base. The father insisted that teams don’t treat each other that way and that it was Xavier’s job to make that happen. Xavier took this lashing with his head held high and then replied that the father was right, he’d made a mistake, and it wouldn’t happen again. And true to his word, the next time something like that happened at a game that weekend, Xavier called a pause in the game, got the whole team around him, and told them they were one group and one family, and if someone needed to be told something like that, he would be the one saying it.

After the Dominicans came from behind 5-0 to defeat the USA, I admit I was a little upset, since I like winning. But I was also excited, for another win on the world stage at baseball would be great for the DR! I hope Platano Power takes them all the way to another undefeated championship!

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