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Baseball Adventure

Posted by Luke Albrecht , 28 January 2018 · 1,126 views

dominican republic international baseball twins minor leagues travel
First Posted: 01 January 2018 - 07:16 PM

(Note: I thought I'd re-post this older forum post on my new blog in case anyone hadn't seen it)

First of all, I'm a long time reader, first time poster, which is pretty exciting. I was reading Bonnes' article about Twins Daily and writing and figured I might have a little something to add. So here goes,
I'm 25 and a big Twins fan. Grew up in South Minneapolis, been to at least 20 games a year since middle school. Got a TC tattooed on my arm. Got a baby picture of myself behind home plate at the dome. A top 3 moment in my life so far was game 163.
I'm also a big baseball fan in general. I've been to a dozen major league stadiums and almost a dozen minor
league and independent parks as well. Not much I'd rather be doing than sitting at a ball game with a beer and some seeds.

I'm also big into traveling and having new experiences. Took a year off between high school and college and solo traveled through 6 countries in Europe and South America (incidentally became a Soccer fan in the process). In college I studied International Relations and Spanish. I've been to 13 countries and 30+ states.

This is all to say, before I graduated college I decided I wanted to live somewhere else in the world as soon as I could. I spent a few years living at my parents house and a cheap apartment paying off my loans, all the while dreaming of where I'd go. I knew I wanted to go somewhere where Spanish was the primary language. While I've studied the language my whole life, I know fluency doesn't come without significant exposure. I knew I wanted to go somewhere affordable (read: cheap living). I also knew through my previous experience abroad, there are some things that bridge cultural gaps and help people meet: Sports, Music, and Drinking. I'm not much of a musician and can't dance, so that was out the window. I also know that drinking is universal; anywhere I'd want to go has beer or liquor or something.

That left sports. I've traveled to places that love soccer before, it's an amazing sport but I don't have the depth of knowledge or passion for the sport like I do baseball. Looking at the countries that play baseball, I counted out Korea and Japan right away. Too expensive, and I didn't feel like picking up an entirely new language. That left Mexico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic, Panama, Cuba and maybe Columbia. Panama, Mexico and Columbia were out; not enough of a baseball presence to really make the most of it. Seeing baseball in Cuba is a dream of mine, but the legal situation made living and working there too much of an uncertainty. I've been enamored with Venezuela since I heard Hugo Chavez telling off George W., but the political situation there is too messy for a white guy like me to expect safety and be able to make any money.

That left the Dominican Republic. Through the years I knew many of my favorite players had come from the Island. I also knew that there was both an affiliated Summer league and a high level winter league. So the Dominican Republic was it.

Over the years living in Minneapolis after college, my girlfriend (now fiancee) expressed interest in going on this adventure with me. I also went to Hamline University and got my certificate for Teaching English asa Foreign
Language. Everything was set to head down and see what it was all about.
And here I am, over two months in. We've both got jobs and an apartment in the second city, Santiago de los Caballeros. We've made some friends and are starting to get the hang of things down here. On one of my first nights here I got to watch the last game of the world series while sharing drinks with the local guys at the corner shop.
Most importantly, I've been to over 15 games at 2 of the 6 stadiums. I've seen all of the teams and a really interesting array of prospects, big league regulars, and has beens. Plenty of future, current, and former twins as well. I've also gotten to know a lot more about Dominican culture and it's people at the games.
There are a lot of similarities between games here and games at home, but probably more differences.
1. Tickets
I've paid between 1 and 25 USD for tickets. I've bought them both through the box office and from scalpers. Weekday regular season games between the less popular teams are a really easy ticket. Games between the two big teams, Águilas Cibaeñas (my hometown team) and Tigres del Licey (from the capital) are a tough ticket. Last game the lowest price I could find was 20 USD per ticket, so a friend snuck me in through a gate where he knew the security guard. I'd like to see that happen at Target Field.
2. Stadium
The stadiums are much smaller than we're used to in the US, with the biggest here in Santiago seating just over 18 thousand. It's one of the few with outfield bleachers. There really isn't a bad seat in the house, and moving from seat to seat is really easy. The stadiums are fairly clean, but definitely in worse shape than any minor league stadium I've been to in the US. The first game I went to there were workers trying to weld a gate next to my seat well into the first inning.
3. Food and Drink
Cheap and good. Hot dogs, slices of pizza, bags of popcorn are a buck. Get a burger for a $1.50. Can of the local beer Presidente for a buck. .5 L of rum for four bucks. And all served to you in your seat by a waitress that takes care of the whole section. It's quite a different experience going to a game, sitting in nice seats, having a few drinks and a full dinner for less than 10 bucks instead of over 100.
4. Entertainment
The game is certainly the main attraction here. People really get into it. There are songs people sing in between at bats, and chants for specific hometown players, opponents, and umpires. It really seems like there are no half-way fans when you're at a game. The mascots are also hilarious. At one game I watched one go on the field in between innings with a toy sniper rifle, get down on his stomach, and take out the opposing team. Another favorite half-time entertainment are the Super Gato (motorcycle company) girls. These scantily clad women get on top of the dugout at least twice a game and dance suggestively in front of the crowd. Men, women, children, grandmas and players stop what they're doing and watch. So yea, pretty different from the match game at Target Field.
5. The Game
It's baseball. The quality of play certainly isn't up to Major League standards, but it can't be much lower than AAA. It may just be small sample size, but it seems that I haven't seen a lot of home runs, maybe 3 or 4 in all the games I've been to. Also, there seem to be more errors committed than I'm used to in the majors, which makes some sense. The pace of play is also dreadfully slow. Not only is there time called often, the rosters are huge and the bullpens are very full. The managers have tons of options out there and like to use them. I've sat through innings that seemed to last forever because there were 4 pitching changes. But overall, good baseball to watch.
Danny Santana- I've only been impressed with his play. He's hitting .308 on the year and I've seen him start one extra-inning game winning rally and hit one other walk-off hit. He's played every game I've seen for the local Aguilas, and started in Center. Not too impressed with his play out there, but I also haven't seen any terrible plays. I know he was waived by Atlanta, but it seems to me that if he could play an average center field he could still be an asset to a major league team as a utility guy. Then again, he's struck out 13 times and walked 5 while slugging .397, so it is still the Danny Santana we got to know so well in Minnesota.

Kennys Vargas- Kennys came to the Aguilas as a mid-season reinforcement. I was very excited to see someone who I believe(ed) still has some upside in the Majors. Well, it hasn't really gone his way. He quickly made a fool of me singing his praises to my friends here in Santiago by hitting .222 with 20 strikeouts and 2 home runs in 54 regular season at bats. It has been fun to get up close to his antics while he's on the bench for a game. Last game I was at, I saw him playing receiver to a guy in the stands who was throwing him candy. It's really cool to be able to get such a close up view of players in an atmosphere where they're relaxed and having fun (maybe too relaxed in the case of Kennys).

Samuel Deduno- This one came out of left-field for me, literally (from the bullpen). He's got the same electric curve-ball and very little command, and now he's pitching out of the pen for the Aguilas. In a small sample of 12 regular season innings, hes got a one and a half ERA and a .81 WHIP.

Jung Ho Kang- Wow, another guy I wasn't expecting to see playing down here. It's been really interesting to watch him play, mostly because of the off the field stuff took him out of the game last year, and it's really interesting to me to see how a guy who hasn't played in so long would fare against some pretty solid competition. In this case, let me tell you, it was not good. Through the middle of the regular season, he was starting most games for the Aguilas and got 84 at bats before he decided to head home for the seasons. In those 84 at bats, he struck out 31 times with and OBP of .219 with 2 doubles. Looks like it's going to take a little more time to shake the rust off if he's going to have any shot of playing in the majors any time soon, regardless of his legal status.

Alexi Casilla- Gotten to see him play a couple times for the Toros del Este. To be honest, he hasn't done anything that's really impressed me (maybe personal bias), but he's on the league leaderboard with a .315 average.

Jair Jurrjens- Yet another blast from the past, he's been the most dependable starter for Licey with a 3.6 ERA in 50 innings. I've seen him throw once, and while his stuff didn't wow me at all, he seems to be able to get through the lineups down here without too much trouble. Another guy I had on fantasy teams back in the day trying to get some exposure down here, apparently he tested positive for steroids this last season in AAA for the Dodgers. Let me tell you, if the winter league is run like everything else here in the DR, I highly doubt there's a strict drug testing policy.

Starling Marte- Speaking of drug testing, Marte is another guy who's gotten a lot of playing time for Escondigo because of his lack of playing time in the Majors last year due to suspension. I was impressed the handful of times I saw him play here, he certainly looked like a guy who only had a little rust to work off, unlike the issues Kang was having. Overall, Marte hit .277/.333/.438 this regular season. I would expect him to be back in the Majors doing well this season.

Justin Haley- I saw him start for Escondigo against Estrellas, and he looked really good. Solid stuff, and even though he gave up 7 hits over 5 innings, he didn't let any of those baserunners score. That game he had 4 strikeouts to no walks. Over his 5 starts, he's pitched 26 innings with a 2.06 ERA and 17 strikeouts to 4 walks. I left the game thinking the Twins would have done well to keep him, but I suppose that's how rule 5 works.

Adalberto Mejia- Here's one guy who I hadn't seen play, but has pretty good stats for the Gigantes del Cibao. It may sound familiar, but Mejia didn't make it out of the 5th inning in any of his five starts, but that may have more to do with the abundance of bullpen options and possible innings limits than anything else. Overall, he had a 3.43 ERA with 15 strikeouts to 8 walks. He's a guy I'll certainly have my eye on this year to take a step forward for the Twins.

While there are some other interesting guys that I've seen play down here, these are the ones who stuck out to me particularly. Right now, the first round of the playoffs is happening, which is a round robin tournament with the top 4 of 6 regular season teams. Then comes the Dominican Championship series and after that the Caribbean Championships. Then, I have to wait a few months before the affiliated Dominican Summer League and MLB starts.

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading! I'd love to hear what y'all think, so please leave impressions/ suggestions/ questions in the comments.

nice narrative. I'd like to hear more about baseball in the Dominican.