Day One – November 7, 2023
Night one of our DR tour was one for the books!
After checking into our beautiful oceanfront hotel the Crowne Plaza, we headed over to Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal for the Estrellas Orientales (@estrellasbc) vs. Tigres Del Licey (@tigresdellicey) game. It was our lucky night because we witnessed a combined NO HITTER! Even though the home team didn’t get the W, the stadium was electric! The band was bringing the energy and the fan section was packed. It was a great way to celebrate the Tigre’s 116th anniversary!
We enjoyed a variety of ballpark grub including “Neapolitan” empanadas, frozen yogurt, and obviously some “vestida de novia” Presidente! Nothing like seeing a no hitter on day 1; day 2, we’re ready for you!
Day Two — November 8, 2023
Day two of our Dominican Republic Tour was jam-packed!
We started the day with a welcome meeting that educated our guests on Dominican culture and the local baseball scene. After the meeting we made our way to the Colonial Zone for sightseeing and our Chu Chu Colonial (@chuchucolonial) train ride. We checked out many sites that remain from when Cristobal Colón (aka Christopher Columbus) and the Spanish settlers chose this location to set up shop in the Americas.
Obviously we came to eat! It’s not a trip to the Colonial Zone without a feast at Mesón de Bari. This is the most popular spot for traditional Dominican fair that was visited by Anthony Bourdain in his tv show, “Parts Unknown.” We enjoyed fried crab in plantain baskets, traditional Dominican dishes like goat stew, and amazing fresh passion fruit juice.
Once we wrapped up lunch we headed to Mercado Modelo which is the oldest market in Santo Domingo. This place is considered souvenir heaven because they have everything you’ll need at a low price.
Now it’s time to rest up for a big baseball day tomorrow. Looking forward to some more exploring and baseball education tomorrow.
Day Three — November 9, 2023
Day three was our busiest day yet! What didn’t we do?
Toured Estadio la Normal, the oldest stadium in the country. The Brooklyn Dodgers and their stars Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella and Duke Snider played here in 1948. Jackie said that it was in the swimming pool of their Santo Domingo (then Ciudad Truijillo) hotel that he was, for the first time, in a swimming pool with white people. Also, Joe Louis fought at La Normal in 1949. We met with “Pape” who has a program at La Normal and is the coach who trained Juan Soto growing up, and he explained his favorite hitting drills for Juan and the fascinating tell of Juan signing with the Nationals.
Enjoyed some crispy and flavorful, chicharrones, yuca, and sweet potatoes with cherry juice and Presidente. There’s many “Chicharrones” locations in the DR but this spot is the best!
Took some hacks and showed off our skills at Valdez Hitting Club, the premier modern hitting facility in the DR! Countless pros (including ourselves and Juan Soto) train here in the offseason.
We had a private tour at the MLB DR Office and WOW, it was an amazing experience. Shane’s old coworkers hooked it up with the inside scoop on anything and everything related to the MLB’s duties in the DR. Thank you to Diego, Katherine, Miguel, Yerik, and Felipe for the presentation and tour!
Toured Casa Museo del Pelotero Profesional Dominicano (Museum of the Professional Dominican Ballplayer) with Elaine and it was a 10/10! This 5 story museum is packed with DR baseball memorabilia, hall of fame jerseys, and tons of historic photos. We also had a prime view of the stadium from the museum.
Estrellas Orientales vs Leones del Escogido game at Estadio Quisqueya. We started off strong with one inning into the game – and then it was suspended due to rain! Rain or shine, the stadium is always high energy with music blasting – a live DJ played throughout the delay! We also met and got autographs from Robinson Cano and other ballplayers.
Day Four — November 10, 2023
Day four was filled with some of the best food and academies in the DR!
We started off the day with a trip to Banco BHD which is the official bank of MLB. It’s where all Dominican and Venezuelan (and most other Latin American countries) prospects receive their signing bonuses. Our private tour from Carlos Gómez (@cadigoliz) gave us all the insights on signing day (formerly July 2 and now January 15) and what it’s like for Dominican players and their families to experience one of the most important days of their lives.
After the bank, we headed over to one of the most famous (and favorite of many celebrities, Dominican ballplayers, scouts, etc.) lunch spots in the DR, Gran Parador Bella Mar Smokehouse. The best part? It’s a gas station! We enjoyed “the best ribs in the Caribbean,” chicken skewers, plantains, and Presidente. We’ll be dreaming about this meal for a while.
Post-lunch we headed over to the sparkling new Milwaukee Brewers academy for a private tour. It’s safe to say this is one of the nicest baseball complexes in the world, let alone the DR! Manuel Vargas (@manuelchu87) showed us around the beautiful facility and our takeaway is that these Brewers prospects live in baseball heaven! We then stopped for pics at the academies of the favorite teams of most of our guest (Mariners, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Nationals, and Mets) for photo opps!
Day Five — November 11, 2023
Day five started off with an impactful trip to La Isabela to visit the area’s Youth Baseball Program. Pachi was born and raised here and still lives with his family here now.
The Youth Baseball Program tour was amazing as always! We brought donations and handed out baseballs to every single player. ⚾️ We even had the opportunity to provide a small group of players with their first ever baseball mitts (s/o to Doug @dnacoug)! Huge thanks to Henry Gonzalez (@henrygonzalezdr) for helping us make this happen – we appreciate it! We also got the chance to meet Francisco Cordero (@cordero_329), (3x MLB All Star and all time leader in saves along all Dominican players) and hear speeches from him too.
After the Youth Baseball Program visit we headed to lunch for some Oceanside Caribbean cuisine at Adrian Tropical (@AdrianTropical). We enjoyed Mofongo (mashed plantains with chicharrón or shrimp), “Boca Chica” while fried fish, and delicious fruit smoothies!
Then we packed up and headed east to Juan Dolio for segment 2 of our trip. After checking into our boutique oceanfront hotel, Hotel Casa Hemingway (@hotelcasahemingway), we settled in and headed to the Estrellas Orientales (@estrellasbc) vs Toros del Este (@torosdeleste) game. We made bets on the winner – and we definitely guessed wrong! John was the only one that bet on the Toros so he won some baseball cards. It was great to see a high scoring game after the combined no hitter the other night.
Day Six — November 12, 2023
Day six brought the sun and fun at our oceanfront hotel, Hotel Casa Hemingway (@hotelcasahemingway). We had all morning to soak up some Vitamin D at our private beach, lay out by the pool, get massages, and enjoy lunch at the only restaurant completely over water in the Caribbean.☀️🏝️🌊
After our free morning and afternoon, we headed over to Estadio Francisco Micheli for the second of a home & away series between Estrellas Orientales (@estrellasbc) vs Toros del Este (@torosdeleste) game. This matchup is known as the “Sugarcane Series” (Serie de la Caña) because this part of the country is known for its sugar cane plantations.
It was a low-scoring, hard-fought game, with the Estrellas coming out on top with a 2-0 win. We came tantalizingly close to our second no-hitter in a week, as Toros pitcher Paolo Espino (@paoloespino) held the Estrellas hitless through 7.1 innings!🥇
Day Seven — November 13, 2023
The last full day of our Main Tour was a fantastic finish! It’s definitely sad to say goodbye to some guests but we are excited to welcome a few new ones for our Northern Tour.
We kicked off the day with a visit to Academia Arias y Goodman (@arias_and_goodman_b.a) an independent academy. This was previously the Pirates’ academy until around 20 years ago when Alfredo Arias (@alfredoariascuret) took over. He now runs the academy that currently is home to 11 players that live there and several others that practice there almost every day, including many professional players. We even ran into Reynaldo Lopez (@rlopez_40) of the White Sox who was working out there. We also chatted with Alfredo’s 14 year old son, Gabriel, who was born in the US and moved here at age three to live and pursue baseball. It’s inspiring to hear how dedicated and motivated he is! 👏
We then took an unexpected pit stop at the country’s oldest fire department! Yes, it’s still up and operating and many of the firefighters live there today. We ended up getting a private tour and demo from some of the team members which was definitely John’s favorite part of the tour since he’s a retired firefighter himself! It was great to see more action of the everyday DR culture. 🚒
After touring the fire station, we had lunch in town at Amable which is famous for its pasteles en hojas. This Dominican staple typically consists of mashed plantains or yuca and is filled with beef or chicken. People top it with ketchup, vinegar-heavy hot sauce, or mayo and obviously wash it down with their favorite fruit juice. 🥤
We couldn’t leave the area without a tour of the Ron Barcelo (@barcelorondr) factory. 🍹We had a private tour that guided us behind-the-scenes of each step in the rum-making process and the history of the brand. (It’s the most awarded rum in the country!) The best part? The smell of the factory barrels + the complimentary rum tastings. 🤤🛢️
We dined outside for our main tour farewell dinner at nearby El Meson Español. This spot has a giant Spanish menu including things like paella, tortilla española, and sangria. 🥘
As we closed out the main part of our tour, we said goodbye to some guests and welcomed others. It was a 10/10 week with tons of baseball, Dominican history, local cuisine, and our incredible guests. Thank you to everyone who joined us and helped out for the past week – it’ll be hard to top! 🇩🇴
Day Eight — November 14, 2023
Day eight started off with a leisurely morning of yet another epic Dominican breakfast and choice of beach, pool, rest, or (maybe…) gym.
Then we hit the road for the long drive to Santiago, the primary city in the north of the Dominican Republic. Since it is a 3-4 hour drive, we stopped halfway at the famous roadside restaurant Tipico Bonao, which is a thatched roof joint with classic Dominican food. Favorites included stewed goat and shrimp rice, and of course the fresh tropical fruit juice.
Best part of lunch though was running into three great Dominican ballplayers! Sitting near us were former Expos great Mel Rojas; his son, and KBO/NPB star Mel Rojas Jr.; and big league infielder Alen Hanson. Alen Hanson (@alenhanson) and Mel Rojas Jr. (@rojasjr_3) play for Licey, who we were going to see later that night, and were also on the way to the game. They were very gracious in talking to us, taking photos, and signing autographs.
Then it was the main event, Tigres del Licey vs Águilas Cibaeñas at Estadio Cibao. This is the biggest rivalry in the DR, arguably in all of baseball! Mel Jr. and Alen said that some say even a regular Licey-Águilas game is bigger than the World Series.
And the game did NOT disappoint. The Aguilas Cibaeñas (@aguilasbbc) are currently in last place and the season is still young, but that did not dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm or the players’ efforts one bit. The energy was palpable to start and kept rising as the game went on. The intensity on the field matched the engagement of the crowd – as Doug (@dnacoug) put it, “this is October baseball in April.” It was a back and forth battle, with both teams coming up with clutch hits. Visiting Tigres (@tigresdellicey) ultimately prevailed 8-7 (thanks in part to three hits including a HR from Mel Jr!), much to the pleasure of the boisterous minority of blue-clad fans. I had been hyping this game for months, and nobody was disappointed with the show we had at Estadio Cibao.
Day Nine — November 15, 2023
The primary symbol of the city of Santiago de los Caballeros is the Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration. The impressive tower was built in 1944 by the ruthless dictator Rafael Trujillo, who ironically named it the “Monument to the Peace of Trujillo.” After Trujillo’s fall, the monument was rededicated to the founding fathers of the country.
We visited the monument on our first full day in Santiago, enjoying its sweeping views of the city and surrounding mountains and the accompanying cool breeze. Then we checked out the adjacent monument to the greatest players in the history of the Águilas Cibaeñas. How appropriate in the DR that statues of the great local ballplayers are so closely situated to the most prominent figures in the country’s history!
We then headed to Centro León, Santiago’s renowned cultural museum that was built by the heirs of the Dominican Republic’s largest tobacco empire. What started as a local art contest has become the primary art gallery and anthropological museum in the country. My favorite part was the impressive collection of artifacts from the native Taino people of the island.
We headed back to the hotel for a rest and then were off to San Francisco de Macoris to see the Gigantes del Cibao host the Estrellas Orientales for our last game of the tour. But first, we stopped for lunch in La Vega, at the local institution for Dominican fare, Restaurant El Zaguan. It was a tasty meal in a classic, ranch-style building.
A drive through the rice paddies of Cibao ended at Estadio Julian Javier, named for the patriarch of one of the most prominent Dominican baseball families, right up there with the Alous and Guerreros. It was a smaller weeknight crowd, but it of course did not lack in enthusiasm. The “Cacao Power” fan club and a local little league kept things lively, but the visiting Estrellas Orientales (@estrellasbc) prevailed. Over the Gigantes Del Cibao (@gigantescibao). Somehow, we did not see a home team win the entire tour! Good thing we aren’t invested in the home team winning.
Day Ten — November 16, 2023
Final day! It’s been a fascinating and joyful tour, but tomorrow it’s back to reality. First, one more day of exploration.
We started the day with a drive through the mountains to Altamira to visit Bartolo Colon Stadium. Bartolo Colon (@bcolon40) built this impressive mountainside facility in the late 90s, before he even had his first big contract. He also built a school and church and donated a firetruck in this town, where he grew up working his family’s hillside farm. In fact, at the quaint museum attached to the ballpark we learned that his arm strength came from cranking the coffee fruit processor on the farm and his accuracy came from throwing rocks at coconuts to knock them down from the trees! We saw lots of artifacts from Bartolo’s past and also his incredible collection of signed jerseys in his garage (Griffey, Ichiro, Pujols, Clemens, Jeter, Big Papi, etc.).
We snuck in a quick game of “vitilla” which is a Dominican street game played with a broomstick for a bat and bottle cap for a ball. No wonder these kids can all hit!
Bartolo sponsors a prospect development program (@academia_bc_40) that was practicing while we were there, which was neat to see. These kids eat, sleep, breathe baseball and it’s working because last year three players signed with MLB teams and this year there is one with a 7-figure signing bonus lined up.
We headed down the hill and tried the local staples of casabe crackers and dulce de leche with guava jelly on the way to the La Aurora cigar factory, the DR’s first. It was amazing to see the workers rolling cigars furiously to the tune of at least 400 per day! The factory was filled with smoke as many workers smoked on the job, and I’m feeling that in my throat a bit as I type this.
For dinner we went to The Circus Food Park (@thecircusfoodpark) in the shadow of the monument, a fun place with many options to eat, including Dominican-style sushi rolls with sweet plantains and avocado. The festive atmosphere was perfect for our tour’s farewell dinner.
It’s hard to believe that ten days passed so quickly. Our guests now are experts on the “Dominican baseball machine” and will always have a soft spot for the Dominican guys as they watch them play!