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Watch the boys of winter seek stardom

October 05, 2008|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

Baseball has been very, very good to the Dominican Republic. Or maybe we should say that the Dominican Republic has been very, very good to U.S. baseball, producing some of the country's best professional players, including the current darling of the Dodgers, Manny Ramirez (and his teammate Rafael Furcal), Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels, as well as Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals.

More than 100 players from the Caribbean nation now don uniforms in Major League Baseball.

That's probably because baseball is more than a pastime in the Dominican Republic. It's a way of life that began during Cuba's Ten Years' War (1868-1878), when Cubans fled to the Dominican Republic, taking with them the game of baseball. The sport caught on, becoming the most popular pastime among the Dominican Republic's 10 million people.

For American baseball fanatics, a trip to the Dominican Republic might be like going to baseball heaven, with good cigars and lots of sunshine.

As the professional season in the U.S. winds down, the six-team Dominican winter league is kicking off, running from October through January. The winner advances to the Caribbean Series to play against Mexican and Venezuelan teams.

The Dominican winter season consists of 50 games, all open to visitors itching to see the stars of the future. Spectators can also see some stars of today. Several major league players from the Dominican Republic return home for the winter season to hone their skills.

Most major league teams have facilities here, including the Dodgers, who have run a baseball academy known as Campo Las Palmas for 20 years.

The New York Mets opened an $8-million, state-of-the-art baseball training academy east of Santo Domingo in July. The new academy is home of the Dominican Summer League Mets, one of 37 minor league affiliates based in the Dominican Republic.

During winter league play, the teams compete in Santiago, Santo Domingo, San Francisco de Macoris, San Pedro de Macoris and La Romana.

With the favorable conversion rate ($1 U.S. brings about 35 Dominican pesos), tickets for the winter league games sell for about $20 or less.

Several airlines, including Delta, American and Continental, offer regular flights from LAX into Santo Domingo, Punta Cana and Puerto Plata, with connecting stops in Miami, Atlanta and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

For more information, visit the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism's website at or call (888) 374-6361. To see a calendar of games, go to

To see teams' websites, or obtain tickets, go to


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