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Major League Study Abroad
June 12, 2011
School of Business students travel to the Dominican Republic to investigate one of baseball’s biggest talent hotbeds.
By Julia Parmley
World Series champion and eight-time All Star Pedro Martinez. Six-time All Star David Ortiz. Nine-time All Star and three-time National League MVP Albert Pujols.
These three baseball players are from the Dominican Republic, which consistently produces the largest group of international players in Major League Baseball.
So for 15 students in GW’s Sports Management Program, the Dominican Republic was the ideal place to study international baseball recruiting practices.
The students, a mix of undergraduates and graduates in a “Baseball Scouting, Development and Impact” class led by Associate Professor of Sport Management Lisa Delpy Neirotti, recently spent a week in the country, which covers the eastern two-thirds of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The class visited Major League Baseball academies and met with talent scouts, players and team personnel to learn about recruiting practices.
“I do these trips a lot and this was one of the most cohesive student groups,” said Dr. Delpy Neirotti. “Everyone was a baseball aficionado; they all shared that passion.”
Twenty-eight of the 30 MLB teams operate baseball academies in the Dominican Republic. Players as young as 16 train at the academies and play in the country’s winter and summer leagues, with the best handpicked by MLB to participate in the respective team’s spring training or rookie leagues.
International players make up approximately 29 percent of MLB’s 2011 rosters, with the majority coming from Latin America, where baseball is by far the most popular sport.
The students visited 13 MLB baseball academies in and nearby the country’s capital Santo Domingo—including facilities operated by the Washington Nationals, New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies—and learned about some of the major issues facing the Dominican baseball system. One of the biggest is the use of “buscones,” informal agents who discover, manage and often house young talent until they are old enough to be drafted into the major leagues.
Dr. Delpy Neirotti said the buscones can pocket up to 35 percent of their players’ contracts upon signing; in recent years, a number of Dominican players have signed for millions. The MLB is currently considering holding only one amateur draft which would include international players.
But an international draft could limit what both players and their buscones get paid, and Dr. Delpy Neirotti said buscones may “lose incentive” to train their players. She and her students are attempting to develop a draft system that would address both the monetary and talent level concerns raised by an international draft.
The students are also developing visitor packages focused around the Dominican Republic’s baseball leagues’ seasons in an effort to increase tourism in the country.
Another issue is the uneven quality of education young players receive in the academies. Many of the baseball academies, including ones affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets, have educational components, but Dr. Delpy Neirotti said their strength varies. “Some of the Major League teams are getting kids that are illiterate,” she said.
Executive MBA student Amy Trout Hughes said she enjoyed meeting with former MLB players who now work in the baseball academies and playing “street beisbol” with 8-year-olds in San Pedro de Macoris, where professional players Mr. Ortiz and Mr. Martinez once called home. Ms. Trout Hughes, whose class project focuses on corporate social responsibility in the Dominican Republic and the involvement of both the MLB and Dominican government, said she is still processing the immense poverty she witnessed.
“It is impossible to understand poverty on the level which we observed without seeing it in person and learning about how it impacts people every day,” she said. “In some ways, people are accepting of their situation but others, especially young men, recognize that there is an opportunity to get out of the current conditions through baseball and see it as the best way to improve their living conditions. This creates a conflict: On one hand, it is a driving factor for them to improve their athletic skills; on the other hand, it can make them targets for less than ethical independent baseball talent agents.”
Investigating “the success route” of top major league players, Joshua Palgon, B.B.A. ’11, said the trip gave him firsthand knowledge he wouldn’t have learned in a classroom.
“I learned a lot while down in the Dominican Republic, ranging from education to player development and international scouting,” he said. “I was more interested to learn about the scouting and player development parts as I now understand many of the challenges in recruiting international players, many of whom don’t know English and have minimal education through the team’s farm systems.”
Ms. Trout Hughes said the experience has brought her “one step closer” to understanding what career interests she wants to pursue.
“Study abroad classes are so important because you have so much more of an opportunity to learn—the entire location is your classroom and the depth of knowledge is broader because it is experiential learning,” she said. “I personally don't learn well in a lecture-only environment, so being able to interact with different people in unique situations definitely gave me a stronger learning experience.”
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