'The Eastern Stars': Baseball has been very, very good to this Dominican town
A review of "The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris." Author Mark Kurlansky tells the story of a small town in the Dominican Republic that has produced an outsized share of world-class baseball players.
Special to The Seattle Times
'The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris'
by Mark Kurlansky
Riverhead, 288 pp., $25.95
How is it that the small city of San Pedro de Macoris on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic has produced more Major League baseball players than any town of its size in the world?
No, it's not the water, but it very well may be the sugar — and this, one suspects, is what Mark Kurlansky, author of "Salt" and "Cod," found fascinating in the topic.
Sugar-making is still the major industry in this region of the Dominican Republic, and the country's poly-ethnic culture developed as people came from all over the Caribbean to cut cane.
From the landing of Columbus in 1492, the Dominican Republic was initially under Spanish control. Over the next two and a half centuries, the country was taken over by France, Haiti and Spain. The U.S. invaded in 1916 to secure territory near the Panama Canal, and stayed for eight years.
One of the unintended consequences of the American occupation was the elevation of Dominican baseball, which had started in the country in the late 19th century. Sugar and baseball were closely tied: sugar mills sponsored teams that competed throughout the country.
From 1962 to 2008, 79 Big League players hailed from San Pedro, which became known as "the city of baseball," including All-stars Rico Carty, Sammy Sosa, Alfonso Soriano and Robinson Cano. With players coming home with riches and fame, baseball became a way out of poverty and spawned a proliferation of scouts and training "academies" sponsored by Major League clubs bent on finding the next young phenom.
Kurlansky's narrative loses steam when it strays from the baseball theme, and even then, some of the interviews with ex-ballplayers can be depressing, money and fame apparently not leading to happiness. But "Eastern Stars" is informative and well worth the read for how it describes the intriguing connection between the U.S. and this Caribbean neighbor.
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