With fast hands and quick feet, the Dominican physiology makes them excellent baseball players. With this discovery by MLB executives and scouts, came the realization there was opportunity to recruit boys from the DR at little cost and high reward. Since wages are generally very low, any amount of money in a signing bonus and promised salary was a windfall.
Unfortunately, with this discovery also came problems. Boys were a commodity for the business of baseball and it was common for them to go to training camps as young as the age of 10 or 11 with the promise of big signing bonuses. Many of these facilities had deplorable conditions. The boys would spend all their time playing baseball, neglecting their studies and their health, playing through injuries or receiving sub-par medical attention. Living conditions had boys in shacks with no windows or running water. It quickly became a crisis.
In addition to long-term personal injury, this led to significant problems when the boys failed to sign a contract with a Major League Team. They would leave the camp unhealthy and uneducated and try to assimilate back into their community with a sense of shame because they were unable to fulfill their perceived duty to their family by earning a contract and associated signing bonus. Rather than taking the boys and their families out of poverty, this practice instead perpetuated the poverty and in fact, made it worse.
Today, thankfully, things are beginning to improve. MLB has recognized the problems and has instituted regulations for their teams’ Dominican academies, for which each MLB team has one, and this has improved the living and training situations for players once they sign a contract with MLB and move into the training leagues. Boys are no longer eligible to sign a contract with MLB until they are 16.5 years old and recruiters are scrutinized for practices that take advantage of players by taking large portions of bonus checks as payment for services.
Joshua 1: Nine hopes to go one step further. Less than 1% of all Dominican boys who want to play baseball will ever sign with MLB and less than 1% of those boys will ever make it to America to have a chance to play at the minor league level. The percentage that moves from the minors to the majors is even smaller still. It is a very small chance but a chance we want to encourage and advance if the boys have the dream and adequate skill. Beyond baseball however, we want to do more.
Our goal is four-fold. Primarily, we want to build character and a foundation of morality. As believers in Christ, we want to share this belief with boys who not yet introduced to him and for those who know Christ, we want to give them tools to deepen the relationship. We want to lead them into a life that has morals and values that glorify and exemplify Christ. We want to strengthen the power of family and help our team grow into God glorifying, family and community leading men by surrounding them with mentors who are doing that in their own lives and can pour into them as Godly examples. In turn, we want to give our players the tools to mentor to those outside the program as well as those who are younger in the program. Our prayer is this will ultimately create a shift in culture and will lead to generations of men who support their families, understand the value of education and ultimately change their communities for the better.
In addition to introducing or deepening the boys’ relationship with Jesus Christ we support the education process in the DR by providing tutoring, mentoring and holding our players to high standards around school attendance and success. We believe each of our players should be literate in English. This will be important when playing in MLB or if not, in finding success in business at home.
We want to provide tools for healthy living. Education around clean water is important in the Dominican Republic. Tap water is not potable and sometimes not available at all. Hygiene and information about how to eliminate waterborne illnesses is crucial in our community. In addition, we want to educate the boys in the program about the dangers of steroid use. The use of steroids is not tolerated and we believe it is important to have education around why steroid use is dangerous before they are in a situation where it might feel necessary.
Our hope and prayer is to have an academy someday where this will be possible in a more protected environment. This will include dormitories, a full kitchen and dining area, multiple practice fields, batting cages, pitching alleys, gym, a chapel, a clinic for sports type therapy and classrooms as well as space for non-baseball type recreation. We do not envision all kids in the program living fulltime at the academy but for those who have a living situation where it is warranted it would be available on a work/study basis. The academy will provide opportunity for the program to share with other teams in the area through games and exhibitions where we hope we can attract MLB scout attention, creating more opportunity for the boys in our program as well as others in Barahona Province to advance toward MLB contracts.
To make this happen we need your support! Please click on this link to learn all of the ways you can give to the program. We look forward to maybe seeing you someday on the ball field under the Caribbean sun!