The Dartmouth baseball team returned home from their trip to the Dominican Republic with a 4-1 record against the baseball academy teams of the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres. But the tour was about far more than wins and losses. It was an opportunity for the Dartmouth players to experience a country where baseball is genuinely the national pastime.
On the field, the goals were player development and evaluation. The teams played under relaxed rules, such as free substitution and pitch counts, that permitted the managers to work with their players as the games proceeded. And with several starters returning from last year's Red Rolfe Division champions, the Dartmouth players were competing to demonstrate they deserve a role next spring.
The managers also agreed the games would be played in a spirit of friendship. The best example of that spirit took place when the Mets generously lent four pitchers to Dartmouth so a game could be played on December 15, which had been scheduled for a rest day for Dartmouth's pitchers. The Mets pitchers sat in the Dartmouth dugout and overcame the language barrier with the universal language of baseball. Co-captain Jack Monahan (Overland Park, Kan.) described calling pitches for a pitcher who spoke no English. "Catching the Mets pitchers was one of the highlights of this trip. At first, we were a little shy about working with our opponents but we were soon laughing and trying to speak each other's language. I discovered that one finger means a fastball and two a curve no matter where you play."
Johnathan Santopadre (Vacaville, Calif,) had his own view of Dominican baseball before the trip and after the trip. “The impression we had before the trip was that they played a style of baseball that could have easily intimidated us. We learned that baseball is the same game in the Dominican and in the States. It is a game that needs to be played as a team - not as individual performer. This experience will help us go into every game this season with a collective confidence that would only be gained from a trip like this."
Off the field, Dartmouth's goal was to experience some of the history and culture of the Dominican Republic. The Big Green spent one afternoon in the old city of Santo Domingo, founded early in the sixteenth century. "The old city allowed all of us to see the Dominican Republic's historical side. Touring this part of Santo Domingo gave us a look at a part of the country that Dominicans take great pride in. I loved the old, rustic feel of the city walkways and shops" said freshman Dave Turnbull (St. Louis, Mo.).
The Dartmouth players also learned that baseball is deeply imbedded in Dominican culture. They attended a Dominican Baseball League game in Santo Domingo that included the best professional players in the country, including major leaguers preparing for next season. “The game allowed our team to experience firsthand the intensity that Dominicans bring to baseball,” said junior Ben Murray (Grants Pass, Ore.). “The passion of the fans reminded me more of a European soccer match than any game I had ever watched in the States."
The Big Green players were frequently stopped in Santo Domingo by people who just wanted to talk baseball. One Dartmouth player was approached in a store by a fan who wanted to talk about the mechanics of swinging the bat. Catcher Brandon Parks (Mission Viejo, Calif.) said "The way that the Dominican people cared about the game was inspiring. Baseball was a way of life to the people on the island. Just walking down the street, people would approach you just to talk to you about baseball and their past experiences. There was a great respect for the game. It was very interesting to see a different culture play the same game with so much passion and respect."
Pitcher Jake Pruner (Triangle. Va.) summed up the impact of the trip on the Dartmouth baseball program. "Spending the last eight days in the Dominican Republic has been a truly unique experience that every member of our team appreciated. The Dominican people treated every member of our program with the utmost respect and took a unique interest in American baseball. From going into Santo Domingo, the oldest city in the New World, to watching their culture cherish the great game of baseball, this trip was very special." When asked what the highlight of the trip was for him, co-captain Robert Young (Cleburne, Texas) had similar thoughts as Pruner. “Just the entire culture of the island (was the highlight). The experience of playing against some of the best young talent in the Dominican was amazing. Watching those guys work and play was like kids out on the playground...it was obvious that they loved playing the game. It helped remind me of the passion I have for this game and why I play it. I will remember this trip for the rest of my life.”
Dartmouth flew back to Boston on Thursday and the players caught rides and planes home for the holiday break. They return to Hanover in early January and team practice begins on February 1. On the near horizon are trips to Duke and Hofstra during winter term, the spring break trip for eight games in California, and the defense of the Red Rolfe title upon their return. And, of course, everyone is excited about the opening this Spring of Red Rolfe Field at Biondi Park, Dartmouth's spectacular new baseball facility. A memorable year for Dartmouth baseball got off to a great start with the trip to the Dominican Republic.