Our maiden voyage to the Dominican Republic was a huge success. Twelve guests – “The Dominican Dozen” enjoyed seven days of all that the D.R. has to offer – delicious food and drinks, beautiful Caribbean beaches, rich history, and baseball – LOTS of baseball.
We saw four of the Dominican winter league’s (La Liga de Béisbol Profesional de República Dominicana, or “LIDOM”) six teams play in their home stadiums, but we dove much deeper than just the LIDOM games – our tour was an immersive Dominican baseball experience.
And along the way, we met with many baseball players, scouts, coaches, and executives, highlighted by Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Juan Soto.
But it wasn’t all baseball! Santo Domingo was the first city in the Americas, offering opportunities for us to visit many of the key structures in the “new world,” including the palace where Christopher Columbus’s (real name: Cristóbal Colón) son lived. Touring the country’s largest rum factory was also a cultural highlight. And the food! Dominican food and drinks are simply delicious, and we definitely ate our way through the country.
A huge thank you to “The Dominican Dozen” for paving the way for countless future JapanBallers to join us on our now annual Dominican baseball adventure.
Day 1 – October 28, 2021
We went to Estadio La Normal, the first stadium in the country, and happened to run into the father of Nationals superstar hitter Juan Soto because little brother (and big prospect) Elian Soto was playing a game there.
After that, we went to the historic Colonial Zone, where we visited the Altar de la Patria, which is a mausoleum of the country’s founding fathers, and the house of Diego Colón, who was the son of Cristóbal Colón (aka Christopher Columbus). His was the first European palace in the Americas, nestled in the first colonial city and fort.
Oh, and the food was amazing the whole time. Lunch was at Meson de Bari, a legendary Dominican restaurant where Anthony Bourdain once dined. And dinner was on the beach!
Day 2 – October 29, 2021
We started out DR Tour Day Two with an amateur prospect tryout in San Pedro de Macorís. The event was put on by the Dominican Prospect League (DPL) and was hosted at Paulino Field.
Next, we went to BHD Bank in Boca Chica, where Dominican players receive their signing bonuses after signing contracts with MLB teams. The bank has an exhibit that features Dominican big leaguers of past and present.
Finally, we finished the morning off with a driving tour of various MLB team academies (we couldn’t enter the academies due to Covid restrictions).
For lunch, we went to a gas station/rest stop called “Gran Parador Bellamar” in Santo Domingo Este. They claim to serve “the best ribs in the Caribbean” They weren’t exaggerating – the food was amazing!
On this day at Gran Parador, they didn’t just have the best ribs in the Caribbean, but also the best hitter in the Caribbean – Washington Nationals superstar Juan Soto! Juan was there with his extended family (recognize his dad?), stopping for lunch on the way to a vacation was so humble and kind, taking photos and signing autographs for anyone that asked.
Then, we were joined by former Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, and Houston Astros infielder, and current New York Mets coach, Rafael Landestoy. Landestoy is a Dominican legend due to his storied winter league career – he won six LIDOM championships with the Tigres del Licey as a player and manager.
In the evening, we attended our first LIDOM game – watching the Tigres del Licey defeat the hometown Estrellas Orientales at Estadio Tetelo Vargas in San Pedro de Macoris. Before the game, Estrellas manager Fernando Tatis Sr. rode in on horseback and there was a fireworks show! Oh, and the seats weren’t bad either – first row behind the home dugout.
Day 3 – October 30, 2021
We started out with a trip to Pantoja, the hometown of Pachi, our on-the-ground guide. MLB Game Development Manager Henry Gonzalez introduced us to Tomas, who has the newest youth baseball program in Pantoja and the only one whose purpose is to develop big-league ballplayers and humans. Our JapanBall guests generously donated not just a bounty of baseballs, mitts, shirts, and other equipment to the program, but also school supplies, in support of Tomas’s mission to instill in his program’s kids an emphasis on education that is even stronger than the cultural emphasis put on baseball. We can’t wait to see how this program and its children grow when we come back next year!
Next stop was Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal, for a home game of the Leones del Escogido. While waiting to meet with Fabio Herrera, Director of Operations for the Estrellas (and Manager of Dominican Operations for the Kansas City Royals), we ran into Pablo Cruz, the godfather of Dominican scouting. Pablo has signed around 70 big leaguers, including countless Dominican All-Stars and legends. Pablo shared with us about his family of scouts and how grateful he is for the game at age 77 (check out this amazing article about a tragedy that Pablo endured as a player).
Fabio then met with us to discuss the baseball operations of the winter league – drafting players, signing imports, and balancing duties with Escogido and the Royals. He also gave us a behind-the-scenes look at Escogido’s recent acquisition of Albert Pujols (e.g. Albert didn’t ask for a lot of money, but he did ask that Escogido makes tickets available to every game for underprivileged children).
Finally, the game began. It was a bit of a blowout win by the Aguilas Cibaeñas over the Leones, but fans of both sides cheered hard until the last out. We sat near the informal band, which played drums and horns all game long and was reminiscent of Japan’s “oendan,” or cheering sections.
On the way home, we stopped at Barra Payan, the best sandwich and smoothie spot in the city, once visited by Anthony Bourdain in his show “No Reservations.”
Day 4 – October 31, 2021
Day four was a blend of history and baseball. We spent the first half of the day in Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone, the first city in the Americas. First stop was a tour of the Panteón de la Patria, a monument to the DR’s heroes, built by the former dictator Rafel Trujillo to be entombed in, and now ironically housing the remains of his assassins. Then, we had a “train” ride through the area that taught us about the history of the area and gave us a break from the heat. Then we checked out the Fortaleza Ozama, which protected the city from invaders and was a temporary home to Diego Colón (Cristóbal Colón’s son) before eventually becoming a jail under the regime of dictator Rafael Trujillo.
The afternoon brought us to Estadio Francisco Micheli in La Romana, where the Toros del Este hosted the Estrellas Orientales. The Toros did little to impress the hometown fans, but at least they were treated to a potato sack race between JapanBaller Pam Ikeda and yours truly!
Day 5 – November 1, 2021
Day 5 was a baseball off-day, as we visited the beautiful Isla Saona, off the southeast corner of the country. The lively catamaran ride took us to a “screensaver” tropical beach, where we enjoyed the perfect Caribbean water, ate a meal of fresh fish and rice (and rum and cokes!), and some of us even received massages.
Day 6 – November 2, 2021
What a way to finish our “Maiden Voyage” to the Dominican Republic! Our last day was perhaps the best. Our first activity was a visit to the Arias & Goodman baseball academy in San Pedro de Macoris, one of the premier prospect development programs in the country. Alfredo Arias was a tremendous host, offering a unique insight into the amateur baseball world. Alfredo opened a gym on the premises three weeks ago, which has immediately become the go-to place for players from San Pedro to work out in the offseason. First, we saw Cleveland Guardians top prospect George Valera, and then none other than Fernando Tatis Jr.! Fernando was so gracious to take some time to meet with us before starting his workout. He signed every autograph and took every photo with his trademark huge smile, leaving our group in awe of his humility and generosity.
Then it was off to the Barceló Rum Historical Center to have a toast to our great morning. The factory tour was extremely well done – interesting and informative – and the included cocktail and tasting put everyone in a great mood. I think that we have some Barceló fans in our group now!
Then, it was a quick lunch at the country’s best spot for “pasteles en hoja” (Dominican tamales, wrapped in plantain leaves) – Amable in San Pedro de Macoris.
Next, we visited the Museum of the Dominican Ballplayer (Casa Museo del Pelotero Dominicano). Seeing the countless players honored on those walls really makes an impact on understanding the incredible talent this island produces. And we were lucky that former MLB pitcher Mel Rojas joined us at the museum. Mel pitched an immaculate inning in 1994 with the Expos and is the cousin of Moises Alou and nephew of Felipe, Jesus, and Mateo Alou.
Finally, it was time for our last game. Toros del Este @ Tigres del Licey at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal. It was neat to see Hanley Ramirez back in uniform with Licey, and Miguel Andujar of the Yankees was sitting right near us too. The only complaint of the trip – we never saw the home team win! I guess we’ll have to come back next year to see how the home crowd goes wild after a victory…Huge thanks to the “Dominican Dozen” for putting your just in JapanBall and joining us for this immersive D.R. baseball and cultural experience!
And that’s a wrap on our “maiden voyage” to the Dominican Republic! Huge thank you to each member of the Dominican Dozen for joining us on this once-in-a-lifetime Caribbean baseball adventure. To hear from them, you can read our guest reviews on this page. They did a great job capturing how much fun we had!
Lastly, if you’re interested in attending our next annual Dominican baseball adventure, learn more details and sign up for the “no-obligation” trip list here.