The other day I watched a short from the Columbia University Film Festival about baseball players in the Dominican Republic called The Ballplayer, which, in turn, reminded me of another film which I still rave about to this day: Sugar. Along the same lines, a new book by award-winning author Mark Kurlansky, who is known to find meaningful stories in unlikely places explains how a small town in one of the poorest nations in the world became a wellspring of the most talented Major League Baseball players of all time (Sammy Sosa being the most famous, or infamous rather, example).
One in six Dominicans who have played in the majors have come from this one tiny, poverty-stricken town, an influx that began after Fidel Castro cut the supply of young men from Cuba. Presently, the major-league American teams have established "academies" in the D.R. with the aim of breeding young players for stardom.
Because of the sugar industry and the influx of migrant workers from across the Caribbean, San Pedro de Marcoris is one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the D.R. In The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Marcoris (Riverhead Books, $26, amazon.com), Kurlansky tells the story of the many players, starting with those who were sponsored by sugar barons. Those who have sought freedom from poverty by playing ball in America are faced with racism, exploitation, the temptation to use steroids, and disappointing baseball careers once they get here. He also explores the lives of those who have made it into the millionaire athletes' club.
In his distinctive style, Kurlansky digs deep into a sport that is such an essential part of the culture of the two nations.