No, it’s not an official name, but players and managers around the league know well of the pipeline of talent that stretches from the Caribbean to the U.S. and Canada.
In that 1984 season, Hightower remembers two Dominican coaches and no less than 20 players on the roster.
“There was a school in the Dominican Republic in those days that was one of the first to start preparing young players to come to the U.S. to play baseball,” he said. “I can remember two of that 20 making a major-league roster.”
This season, the Oklahoma City RedHawks have seven Dominican-born players on the roster, some with solid prospects of making it to the bigs. Minor-league baseball is hard work, and in a sport obsessed with statistics, one of the few that’s hard to find is how many players in the farm system ever get substantial time on a major-league roster. No estimate is in double digits.
With more than 40 percent of the Dominican Republic population below the poverty level, the chance of an MLB contract is worth the work.
RedHawks third baseman Jimmy Paredes was 17 when he signed with the New York Yankees. Eventually traded and now with the Oklahoma City roster, he said his two goals this season are to improve his batting and his English.
The league has life coaches who help with money, English, cultural transitions and many other factors that men who aren’t even 20 struggle with in their homelands.
Carlos Corporan, one of the veterans on the RedHawks, is in his 11th year in professional baseball. Hailing from the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, the catcher said the experience was much the same for him as it has been for the young Dominican players.
Both islands rely on a network of club teams to produce talent, as public schools don’t have sports. As Corporan said, “School is about education.” He went to college and was eventually drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. He landed in the U.S. with all the limitations his Dominican teammates face.
“The language, food and people were all different than back home,” he said. “The freedom here is amazing, and the streets are safe.”
Like many of his Latin American peers, Corporan sent however much money he could back home. He said he has earned enough in his career, which has included a 52-game season last year for the Houston Astros, to secure his children’s future and live comfortably.
“I’m thankful to the sport and to the U.S.,” he said. “After I retire, I’ll probably split time between the U.S. and Puerto Rico.”
A secure future is what many players hope for — why else work the grueling schedule?
But Corporan said that love of baseball is a great motivator, too.
“The purpose of baseball is to have fun,” he said. “I’ll retire when I stop having fun.”
The RedHawks begin a four-game home stand tomorrow evening against the New Orleans Zephyrs.