Field Trip of Dreams
Field Trip of Dreams

by Mark Drozdowski
Director of University Communications

The summer of 2016 marks the farewell tour of David Ortiz, the Red Sox designated hitter known as “Big Papi.” Ortiz is one of dozens of players from the Dominican Republic who, despite humble roots, have become stars in Major League Baseball over the past half-century.

Last January, UNH students took the opportunity to see where and how these players got their start.

Over winter break, seven students spent 12 days on a pilgrimage guided by April Yoder, assistant professor of history, whose “Globalization of Sport: Baseball in the Dominican Republic” course introduced them to the culture of the country and its obsession with the sport.

April Yoder (far left) with UNH students and a Dominican baseball player in Manoguayabo, just outside Santo Domingo.

They stayed with Dominican host families, surveyed the defunct sugar mills in Consuelo, visited the birthplaces of legends Sammy Sosa and Manny Acta, toured the New York Mets training academy and played baseball with dozens of Dominican youth who harbor the same dreams that have brought more than 600 of their forefathers to the majors since 1956.

The intensive class also required plenty of reading and reflection on the historical development of baseball through the lens of globalization.

“I worked them pretty hard,” Yoder said. “Some days they saw me for 12 hours. I felt a little bad, but not that bad because they did get three credits for it.”

The trip was the third study abroad experience for Bianca Gureralp ’16, a sports management major from Fair Lawn, N.J.

“The first two trips were amazing but didn’t completely relate to my major,” she said. “Once I saw the opportunity to study the globalization of baseball, I couldn’t miss it.”

Yoder’s interest in Latin America began in third grade, when an immigrant student from Mexico joined her class. After graduating from the University of Indianapolis, Yoder pursued her master’s degree in Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona. While in Tucson, she developed a curiosity about baseball and continued that passion at Georgetown, where she earned a Ph.D. in history in 2014 with a dissertation examining how the growth of the baseball industry in the Dominican Republic intertwined with the development of democracy.

In addition to the study abroad class, Yoder also teaches “Sport in Latin American History,” which is organized around themes such as industrialization, political participation, gender and race.

“We examine the same things you’d study in a modern Latin American history course, but we do it through sports,” Yoder said, citing the example of soccer hooliganism in Argentina and the causal relationship between sports and violence. “Do sports reflect society’s violence or promote it?” she asked.

Baseball in the Dominican Republic dates back to the 1880s, when Cuban and Puerto Rican exiles introduced the sport. Its popularity grew while the U.S. occupied the country from 1916 to 1924 and in the mid-20th century with the advent of amateur leagues, and before long players such as Felipe Alou, Julian Javier and Juan Marichal were becoming Major League Baseball stars.

Today, about 80 MLB players hail from the Dominican Republic, a disproportionate number from a country with a population of only 10 million. In fact, the country is the number one producer of professional talent outside the U.S. Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, Panama, Colombia and Nicaragua also regularly send players to the majors. Baseball may be America’s pastime, but apparently it’s Latin America’s pastime as well.

“Bumping into random people in the streets who happen to be professional baseball players can be a little surreal,” said Yoder, who hopes to develop a similar study abroad trip to Cuba.

“My biggest takeaway was how passionate Dominicans are about their baseball,” said Justin Thornton ’16, a sport management major from Warwick, R.I. “Any avid MLB fan knows that, but I felt as though I was introduced to an entirely different viewpoint of baseball.”

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