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A Brief History of Baseball and the Dominican Republic
Long before David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez were shattering batting and pitching records, or baseball greats like the Alou brothers and Manny Mota were becoming iconic baseball figures, the Dominican Republic was already introducing a distinctive brand of baseball to the world. The Dominican Republic has a long baseball history, which has only become richer in recent years.

For over 100 years, baseball has been at the center of cultural life in the Dominican Republic. Though the origins of baseball in the Dominican aren’t exactly known, historians suggest that baseball first came to the island around the 1880s. Though it is a historical misconception that American Marines brought the game to the island during the 1916 invasion, the United States did play an integral, though indirect, role in bringing baseball here. The United States brought the game of baseball to Cuba in the mid-1860s. It is said that it was Cuban immigrants, fleeing their country's ten-year war, who spread the game throughout the Caribbean, including the Dominican Republic. The first baseball teams on the island were formed either in the year 1894 or 1895.

Eventually four teams were formed, becoming the oldest, and founding organizations of baseball in the country. Los Tigres del Licey (The Tigers) was founded in Santo Domingo (in order to compete with Club Ozama y Club Nuevo) in 1907. Over the next 15 years Licey became so dominant that an agreement was made among the three other competing teams (Los Muchachos, San Carlos, and Delco Light) to form a new team, comprised of their best players, in order to beat Licey. That team was Los Leones del Escogido. Las Estrellas Orientales (Eastern Stars) was founded in San Pedro in the year 1911. And later, as mentioned, in 1921, Los Leones del Escogido (Lions of the Chosen One) was founded in Santo Domingo. Sandino, who would become one of the more dominant teams in the league, was founded in 1921, (Sandino was later renamed Las Aguilas Cibaenas, (The Eagles, in 1936).

After its introduction in the late 1880s the sport’s popularity quickly spread, and by the 1920s and 30s teams from the Dominican Republic were playing other Caribbean nations, as well as teams from North America.

As with everything on the island, Dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who became president of the Republic in 1930, through military action, ultimately controlled all of Dominican baseball. Trujillo oversaw the modernization of the Dominican Republic, and undertook the modernization of baseball as one of these tasks. He built the first major baseball stadium, and provided an avenue for the sport to become the country’s national pastime. With the help of the dictator, and his support of the game, this era became crucial in providing the economic and political foundation for the sport. The inception of the official baseball league, and the eventual completion of “El Estadio Trujillo” (later renamed Estadio Quisqueya), were landmark events, as they cemented the place of baseball in the Dominican cultural lexicon. During the first phase in the evolution of the country’s baseball history, games were played only during the day. The game’s second stage began when Estadio Quisqueya was built in 1955. The stadium was a brilliantly designed and well-built stadium for its time. With the stadium came lights, and what is considered Dominican baseball’s Golden Era.

To a further extent, players from the United States, especially the Negro Leagues, ventured down to the Caribbean, especially to the Dominican Republic, to play against some of the Caribbean’s finest, adding to the level of competition already present.

One of the most famous players to participate in the Dominican baseball circuit was Negro League great Satchel Paige. In 1937 Paige was approached by Dr. Jose Enrique Aybar, Dean of the University of Santo Domingo, deputy of the Dominican Republic’s national congress, and director of Los Dragones. (Los Dragones were the two rival teams from Santo Domingo, Licey and Escogido, who were merged to play in that year’s 1937 Dominican Baseball league). Los Dragones were a baseball team operated by Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, and Aybar hired Paige to recruit talented Negro League players to play for Trujillo. With $30,000 in hand, the Negro League legend convinced eight other Negro League players to join him for the eight-week long season, including future Negro League legends Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Leroy Matlock, Sam Bankhead, Harry Williams and Herman Andrews. Paige had a solid season, recording a league best 8-10 record, and Los Dragones finished the season in first place, with an overall record of 18-13. After Los Dragones beat San Pedro de Macoris in the championship game, (coming from a 3 games to 0 deficit), all the players, except for Paige returned to the United States, though Paige would eventually return to the States.

Having little baseball options after being banned from the Negro National League, the returning players formed Trujillo’s All-Stars, and barnstormed around the Midwest, playing in exhibition and All-Star games. Eventually Paige would continue to barnstorm around the United States, though he would never return to the island.
 
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