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.
The entrance of Paulino Field in San Pedro de Macorís showcases baseball legends from the area. Tour guide Francisco Castillo speaks with a recently-signed New York Yankees pitching prospect at Paulino Field in San Pedro de Macorís. Batting practice at Paulino Field in San Pedro de Macorís. Scouts observing a Dominican Prospect League (DPL) game at Paulino Field in San Pedro de Macorís. The city entrance to San Pedro de Macorís features statues that honor the area’s two exports: sugar cane and baseball players.
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!
Gran Parador Bellamar rest stop. Group lunch at Gran Parador Bellamar rest stop. Salud! Bruce Stambaugh with a “jumbo” sized Presidente beer at Gran Parador Bellamar, Shane with Avocados at Gran Parador Bellamar rest stop. Lunch at Gran Parador Bellamar rest stop: pork ribs with moro, plantains, and avocado! BBQ at Gran Parador Bellamar rest stop. Martin Flamm with the grillmaster at Gran Parador Bellamar rest stop.
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.
Paul Barnes with Juan Soto at Gran Parador Bellamar rest stop. Juan Soto autographed 100 peso bill. Bill Potts-Datema with Juan Soto at Gran Parador Bellamar rest stop. Dominican baseball star slugger Juan Soto having lunch with his family. Washington Nationals superstar Juan Soto posing with the tour guests.
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.
Rafael Landestoy shows off his LIDOM (Dominican Winter League) championship ring, earned with the Tigres del Licey. Rafael Landestoy autographed cards. Shane and Bill Potts-Datema with Rafael Landestoy at Gran Parador Bellamar rest stop.1 Tour group with Rafael Landestoy at Gran Parador Bellamar rest stop.
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.
Fernando Tatis, manager of the Estrellas, rides into Estadio Tetelo Vargason horseback. Estadio Tetelo Vargas in San Pedro de Macoris, home of the Estrella Orientales. Pregame freworks at Estadio Tetelo Vargas. The “Dominican Dozen” enjoying the Estrella Orientales game at Estadio Tetelo Vargas in San Pedro de Macoris. Steve and Pam Ikeda at Estadio Tetelo Vargas. Ordering a rum and coke at Estadio Tetelo Vargas. Fernando Tatis Jr. fans at Estadio Tetelo Vargas. Amy Ross at Estadio Tetelo Vargas
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!
(L to R) Francisco Castillo, Tomas, and Henry Gonzalez explain Tomas’s youth league in Pantoja. Youth league ballplayers in Pantoja. Youth league ballplayers in Pantoja getting pumped up for practice. Henry Gonzalez interviews a young ballplayer in Pantoja Wait, this isn’t the bullpen! A cow gets loose from a nearby ranch in Pantoja. Tour guides Francisco Castillo and Shane Barclay with Henry Gonzalez of MLB. Youth league in Pantoja.
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).
Juan Marichal statue in front of Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal. Escogido legends Ozzie Virgil (the first Dominican big leaguer), Juan Marichal, and Ozzie Virgil photos at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal. In the VIP suite at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal. Meeting with Escogido executive Fabio Herrera at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal. DR group with scouting legend Pablo Cruz at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal.
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.
Ceiling mural at the Panteón de la Patria. Guard at the Panteón de la Patria. Walking the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo. Thomas Espinoza, Mary and Bruce Stambaugh on Colonial Zone train ride Our Fortaleza Ozama tour tuide with Martin Smith and Doc Flamm. Martin Smith, Shane Barclay, and Amy on Colonial Zone train ride Waving hello from way atop Fortaleza Ozama. Group lunch in the Colonial Zone Lunch in the Colonial Zone: pork belly with black bean rice and sweet plantains.
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!
Pam and Steve Ikeda, Bruce and Mary Stambaugh at Estadio Francisco Micheli in La Romana. Doc Flamm keeping score at Estadio Francisco Micheli Shane Barclay and Pam Ikeda with the Toros del Este mascot on the field at Estadio Francisco Micheli. Shane Barclay and Raymond Abreu, General Manager of the Toros del Este, at Estadio Francisco Micheli Shane and Pam with the prize package at Estadio Francisco Micheli for participating in the sack race: tubed meats! Take your child to work day? A food vendor and his son at Estadio Francisco Micheli Estadio Francisco Micheli in La Romana (photo: Carter Cromwell)
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.
Martin Smith on catamaran to Isla Saona. Paul Barnes and Thomas Espinoza on catamaran to Isla Saona. “Que romántico!” Bruce and Mary Stambaugh on catamaran to Isla Saona. Shane Barclay and Gordon Sheldall on catamaran to Isla Saona. The catamaran’s fuel – wind and Extra Viejo Brugal rum! Bill Potts-Datema and Amy Ross on catamaran to Isla Saona. Isla Saona Palm Trees Isla Saona lunch – garlic white fish, cucumber salad, roasted chicken, and yellow rice. Eating lunch on Isla Saona Sail boat near Isla Saona Waving to the boat from Isla Saona waters Isla Saona boat workers Amy Ross and Martin Smith on speed boat from Isla Saona DR tour group on catamaran to Isla Saona.
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.
Mary Stambaugh with the prospects of Arias & Goodman Baseball Academy. The Domincan Dozen with Fernando Tatis Jr. at Arias Fitness in San Pedro de Macoris. Fernando Tatis Jr. autographed 100 peso bill. Martin Flamm, Paul Barnes, Amy Ross, Bill Potts-Datema, and Carter Cromwell in front of Arias & Goodman Baseball Academy. “God is Good,” say the dugouts at Arias & Goodman Sports Agency Tour guides Francisco Castillo and Thomas Espinoza with Pam Ikeda at Arias Fitness in San Pedro de Macoris.
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!
Barcelo Rum Historical Center and factory in San Pedro de Macoris. The tour guide team – Shane Barclay, Francisco Castillo, and Thomas Espinoza – at Barcelo Rum Factory. Eddie Browning and Gordon Sheldall at Barcelo Rum Factory. Learning about rum aging at Barcelo Rum Factory. Learning about sugar cane harvesting at Barcelo Rum Historical Center and factory in San Pedro de Macoris. Barcelo rum factory cocktail.
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.
The Casa Museo del Pelotero Dominicano in Santo Domingo. Mel Rojas points to his card in the display of cards of every Dominican big leaguer at the Casa Museo del Pelotero Dominicano. Mel Rojas and Doc Flamm at the Casa Museo del Pelotero Dominicano. Alou brothers display at the Casa Museo del Pelotero Dominicano. Plaque of Rafael Landestoy, who we met earlier in the trip, at the Casa Museo del Pelotero Dominicano. Feliz Navidad from the Casa Museo del Pelotero Dominicano. JapanBall Dominican Republic Tour commemorative ticket signed by Mel Rojas, Rafael Landestoy, Juan Soto, and Fernando Tatis Jr.
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!
Pregame ceremony honoring Dominican Olympic athletes at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal. Bill Potts-Datema shows off his new Tigres del Licey hat at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal. Martin Flamm shows off his new Tigres del Licey hat at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal. Tour guide Shane Barclay with Miguel Matos of Major League Baseball at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal. Steve Ikeda with a foul ball caught at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal.
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.