Dec 082003
 
Authors: Joshua Pilkington

The offseason months of November, December and January,

characterized by words like arbitration, free agents, signing bonus

and other agent-speak, are what baseball aficionados call the ‘Hot

Stove’ months. Trade rumors and signing rumors abound in these

months more than any others; yet, the truly dedicated players are

nowhere near the scene.

After enduring the rigors of a 162-game regular season and, for

the more fortunate, the toll of a heavy load in the postseason,

hundreds of Major League Baseball players take time off to return

to their homes and do what they do best: play baseball.

The destination: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the game:

baseball, the purpose: patriotism. ‘El campeonato invernal de

Rep�blica Dominicana’ (The Dominican Republic Winter league

baseball championships) is what drives these players away from the

fame and fortune of the United States and back to their homeland to

participate in something based on passion and love for the game,

not money. No players’ unions dictate who plays for whom and for

how much, no corrupt club owners pocket the proceeds from ticket

revenues and merchandise sales, and no national broadcast company

invests millions into a multi-year contract with the league. No,

the roots of el campeonato invernal run much deeper than those

superficial things that now exemplify major sports in the United

States.

For these boys of winter, the games they play in the Dominican

give them a chance to do something that may mean even more to them

than a World Series ring: represent their country in la Serie del

Caribe (the Caribbean Series), where championship teams from

Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic square

off to determine who is the best in the Caribbean.

Since late November and early December an influx of MLB

superstars have integrated the rosters of the teams of the liga

invernal.

The Domincan’s version of Sox vs. Yankees

Much like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the United

States, la liga invernal has two dominant franchises competing

against each other both on the field and off it. The Licey Tigers

and the Cibae�as Eagles both have 17 Dominican Championships

apiece and yearly they attempt to persuade the best MLB has to

offer to play on their teams. The Tigers have jumped the gun this

season and taken control of the standings in the process. In the

past six weeks the Tigers have added 17 MLB players to their

roster, among them former and current All-Stars like Minnesota

Twins shortstop Cristian G�zman, former Colorado Rockie

Jos� Jimin�z and second baseman Luis Castillo of the

World Series Champion Florida Marlins. With such an influx of

talent, many have wondered how Tigers’ manager Manny Acta can find

a place for each, a problem he says he is happy to deal with.

“Everyone says that I have a problem with so many (players) that

can be regulars, but really I don’t see it as a problem,” Acta told

Enrique Rojas, editor of Santo Domingo’s Diario Hoy. “It’s

something special to count on nine stars in the field and 21 stars

on the bench.”

As if 17 professional baseball players weren’t enough, rumors

say that future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, formerly of the

Montreal Expos, could soon join the team he helped lead to the

Caribbean Series in 2001.

Not to play second fiddle, the Eagles, who have won six of the

past eight Dominican Championships, already initiated their parade

of stars. 2002 American League MVP Miguel Tejada, third baseman

Tony Bautista and outfielder Ra�l Mondesi all have joined or

plan to join the team soon.

True passion

For players like Tejada, Guerrero and other stars, the chance to

represent their country on the field is something they will not

allow to be taken away from them, even if it means accepting less

money in a Major League contract.

“One of the conditions that I ask for before signing a contract

is that I’m not kept from playing in the winter league with the

Cibae�as Eagles,” Tejada told Rojas.

The name-dropping doesn’t stop with Eagles and Tigers, however.

The Escogido Lions have Rafeal Furcal (Atlanta Braves), Neifi

P�rez (San Francisco Giants), David Ortiz (an MVP candidate

from the Boston Red Sox) and pitchers Jose Lima, Miguel Batista and

Octavio Dotel.

Furcal, who hit .292 with 15 home runs, 61 RBIs and 130 runs,

credits his breakthrough season to the winter league.

“What I achieved in the big leagues in 2003, I owe in part to

playing a full season with Escogido,” he said.

Meanwhile the Carolina Bulls, who are a surprising second in the

standings, have added AL Rookie of the Year Angel Berroa to their

roster, while the Ciboa Giants await the arrivals of Albert Pujols

(runner-up for the National League MVP award) and Placido Polanco

(Philadelphia Phillies).

No money, no worldwide television broadcasts, no players’ union,

no owners, no salary cap, no problem; the Dominican winter league

offers much more to its fans and players. Perhaps MLB should look

harder at what really drives players to play their best:

baseball.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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