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By Jon Doyle MA, CSCS
With foreign born players now comprising 28% of MLB rosters, certainly MLB organizations are placing an enormous emphasis on international scouting. In addition, a whopping 47% of minor league ballplayers were born outside the United States! This trend will continue to rise as long as countries such as the Dominican Republic, Venezuela & Japan produce not only MLB players, but monster talent.
And, judging by my recent trip to the Dominican Republic - the country that leads all foreign countries with 88 current MLB players - there is no shortage of talent. In fact, it's abundant. And, there are reasons why. Reasons that can help you become a better ballplayer if you're willing to learn. I'll get to these reasons in a minute, but first let me explain my trip to the "D.R.".
As you may or may not be aware, I consult with hundreds of Major League players and dozens of MLB teams. Recently, I was offered by multiple Major League teams to visit their "academies" in the D.R. to teach strength & conditioning methods to their international coaches. So they can in turn train their players.
Since all of my consulting work is confidential, I cannot tell you what team's facilities I visited. But I can tell you about the trip, teach you what I learned about the D.R. & what you can do now to become a better baseball player - courtesy of the Dominican ballplayers.
"Pick-Up" Baseball - A lost art
Transportation is very difficult in the D.R. Therefore, kids play "pick-up" baseball games on basically any open field that they can find. Here is a picture of a local cattle ranch that also has an area that doubles as a baseball field.
While it's not perfectly groomed by any stretch of the imagination, the kids just love to play ball - no matter where they are playing!
And for those athletes who are old enough, and good enough, they live, eat and sleep at the various MLB baseball academies spread throughout the D.R. This is where they can be seen and developed by scouts and coaches. With the end goal becoming the next D.R. superstar.
Why Dominican Ballplayers Succeed
1. Tremendous Dynamic Joint Range Of Motion
Certainly the Dominican ballplayer is genetically geared towards baseball. Their frame is typically lean and long, with an excellent strength-to-weight ratio. Their cultures emphasis on manual labor is responsible for their high fast twitch muscle fiber make-up. This is crucial to becoming a high level ballplayer.
But what was extremely refreshing to see what their incredible dynamic joint range of motion throughout their hips, ankles and shoulders. This allows for high speed & power while running, throwing and swinging.
Anyone who has read any of my material knows how often I refer to this often under-developed physical trait. American athletes have terrible dynamic joint range of motion as a whole - due to long durations of sitting watching TV and playing video games. Only those who were genetically blessed or who work at it can overcome these societal shortcomings. This is the one physical aspect that when improved an skyrocket your performance almost overnight. I explain how to do this in my Ultimate 7 Minute Dynamic Warm-Up DVD.
2. Function in "One Kinetic Chain"
Their development also allows for the body to function as "one Kinetic Chain" meaning muscles work with each other, not independent of each other. We spend a great deal developing this critical function in American athletes. Dominicans have this figured out from a young age. Of course, this is also largely due to the high amounts of physical labor that is demanded of them.
When the body works together, a bat can be swung easier and quicker with more force. A ball can be thrown with much more velocity. Rarely did I see a player who was an upper body swinger, even with the younger ball players. They all used their trunk effectively and efficiently.
3. Emphasis on "speed" strength, not muscle mass
While their frames allow for large increases in muscle mass, they know that is not necessarily to hit for power or throw in the mid to high 90's. While I taught them a great deal of new explosive exercises, they were already using others to develop strength, speed and power without risking injury.
These include sub-maximal weight training (50-70% of 1RM) based around compound movements, medicine ball drills, odd-object lifting and bodyweight calisthenics (i.e. GPP).
You certainly won't catch Dominican athletes dedicating an entire day to the bench press or heading to the gym to work "chest and tri's". For some reason it's very difficult to get most American athletes to get away from bodybuilding routines, baseball player included.
Sadly, quite often when foreign-born players come to the U.S, their training changes for the worse.
Is there any doubt the rapidly increasing Disabled List is due to poor training methods? In my view it's as clear as day…
Here are the eye-opening figures for the MLB disabled list (numbers given show the number of players on the disabled list on the first Friday of each season):
As of yesterday, that disabled list total was up to 122. Ouch.
Courtesy Jon Heyman - SI.com
While performance enhancing drugs are phased out of baseball (or at least attempted) training methods need to change. Long has MLB strength coaches been considered the worst in pro sports (mainly because it's a VERY tough life & the pay is brutal), but teams need to make an investment in this area so their multi-million dollar athletes can stay on the field.
D.R. players are very "coachable". They do not argue, just always trying to learn. And the coaches, for the most part, do not have large egos. While they are certainly trying to get ahead, they have the ballplayers best interest in mind at all times. And while the majority of American players and coaches I come across are the same way, sadly our sport is being ruined by family, friends and "advisors" who think they know it all - and often have their best interest in mind - ahead of the said player.
While all bets are off once a large contract is signed, from my experience there are no ego's, even for the players considered superstars.
5. Insatiable Desire To Succeed - Failure Is Not Even Considered
This is a trait I have always admired in the elite athletes I work with. Simply put, they are simply stronger between the ears than everyone else. They cannot be shaken. They believe in themselves, even in the most difficult circumstances. Losing is not an option. And it's never even considered.
They know the work they put in during the off-season, in practice and before & after games will lead them to success. If this is not your current mindset I highly suggest you work on this through positive visualization. It will improve every area of your life. I cannot stress this enough.
Certainly, for most young Dominican ballplayers baseball is a way out of poverty. If you do not come from poverty it's impossible to have this exact motivation. But that does not mean you can't have a winning attitude and the utmost confidence in yourself. There has been many great athletes that have come from middle and upper class background. This is a mindset, not social stature.
Obviously you can tell I had a positive experience during my trip to the D.R. I met many players, coaches and scouts who love the game of baseball and are very proud of their nation.
I find many common traits between great American baseball players and Dominican baseball players. This proves it's not about where you're from, but how you go about your business. This transcends the game of baseball into everyday life.
While America will always produce a boatload of baseball talent, we can always learn from other countries that are successful as well.
I certainly know as one of my readers you are WAY ahead of the game and would never use any of these silly training methods that are hurting players across the country. But it's always good to know what is happening around the world and how you can better yourself and your teammates.
I hope you enjoyed my first-hand account of the D.R. It was a great honor to visit and help mold future Major League superstars. One of the great parts of my work is helping young athletes grow, develop and learn.
1866-1907: Baseball was first introduced in the Caribbean in the mid-19th century by U.S. sailors who transported sugar to the then Spanish colony of Cuba. Baseball first came to the Dominican during the 19th century when Cuban refugees fleeing their island during the Ten Years’ War migrated to the
Dominican, bringing with them the game of beisbol. The game caught on quickly and by 1890, the first Dominican professional league was founded. In 1907, as the game began becoming more and more popular, the Tigres del Licey were founded in the capital of Santo Domingo (the Tigres are still the team in Santo Domingo).
During the Trujillo era: Dictator Rafael Trujillo ruled the country from 1930-1938 and again from 1942-1952 and during this time baseball continued to become an even more of an integral part of the culture. While Trujillo terrorized and brutalized his citizens, he also undertook many public works projects, which included building several baseball stadiums. In a time when African Americans were still banned from playing professional baseball in the United States, many U.S. nationals like Satchel Paige came to the Dominican to play professionally in the DR, establishing a tradition of U.S. major league players coming to the Dominican to play in the winter league.
1951: the modern Dominican League was founded and during the 1955/1956 season, the season was moved from Summer to Winter—which allows Dominican players to play in both the U.S Major Leagues AND the Dominican winter league. Today: Currently two teams dominate the league—the Tigres del Licey from Santo Domingo and the Aguilas Cibaenas from Santiago (the second largest city in the Dominican). These two teams have won 16 of the last 17 titles.
The league (especially these two teams) also attract many top players from the Major Leagues—both Dominican nationals and non-Dominicans.
The Dominican teams also tend to fare very well in the Caribbean World Series, a playoff event that pits the best baseball teams from around the Caribbean and Latin America.
If you find yourself in the Dominican during the Winter League season, you should definitely consider going to a baseball game. For American baseball fanatics, a trip to the Dominican Republic might be like going to baseball heaven, with good cigars and lots of sunshine, But, whether you are a baseball fan or not, these games in the Dominican are as much about the cultural experience as the game being played. In the D.R. baseball is more than a mere pastime, but rather a way of life.
While some may think that being at a baseball game in the Dominican might be similar to going to a Major League game in the U.S., this just isn’t the case. Imagine an important rivalry game in the U.S. (like Yankees versus Red Socks) and multiply it by ten, add in fanaticism and sprinkle it with a dousing of rum and you have a Dominican game.
Through 9 innings, fans wave flags, scream, show up with painted faces, clap and have a great time. And, unlike in the U.S. where you may find yourself shelling out an exorbitant $9 for a beer, spectators in the Dominican drink rum from plastic bottles—which as you can imagine just makes the cheering all the more boisterous as the game continues.
How to get tickets
Because of the favorable exchange rate ($1 = 35 Dominican pesos), attending a baseball game in the Dominican shouldn’t cost you more than $10-$20. However, to get tickets at these prices you must go the to stadium ticket windows at 9 am on game day. Fans usually start lining up at these ticket offices starting about an hour prior to their opening (at 9 am), and as long as you show up before or at 9 you shouldn’t have too problems getting a ticket.
If you can’t make it to the stadium ticket windows on the morning of the game, you can buy tickets close to game time in front of the stadium from scalpers. However, tickets bought off the black-market like this usually cost 3 to 4 times more than from the stadium ticket window, so you’ll have to decide whether saving the extra money is worth getting up early for.
While it is common and easy to buy tickets to baseball games in the U.S. online, don’t expect to be able to do this for Dominican games. Unfortunately, there is no real way to secure a ticket without being there in person.
Tips to getting Tickets
• Show up early. Tickets, especially for the important games, sell out fast, so make sure you are lined up before the ticket windows open at 9 am.
• While taking a carro publico (public car) is the cheapest way to get around Santo Domingo, learning how this system of transportation works can be complicated for those unfamiliar with the city (especially for those who don’t speak Spanish). Your best bet to finding the stadium is to take a cab—the driver will know exactly where the stadium is located.