In the Dominican Republic baseball is more than a game, it is a way of life. Baseball is an opportunity for young athletes and their families to prosper in this developing country and sometimes, their only hope for success. In 1956, Ozzie Virgil became the first Dominican to play in the MLB creating a trend that was followed by the likes of Albert Pujols, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Felipe Alou, and many more. Since Virgil, almost 600 Dominicans have played or are playing in the MLB, and today, a quarter of the 7,000 minor league players are from the Dominican Republic.
In order to draw from this pool of talent, each of the 30 MLB teams has placed a developmental academy in the Dominican Republic. These academies provide an opportunity for a better life through the game of baseball, and the players pursue professional contracts hoping to go to the United States. However, only the best of the best are given a chance, and that is where MTAG steps in. Where sugar cane and baseball players are the Dominican’s number one exports, MTAG fills the void by implementing after school programs, safe playing fields, and potential opportunities for players to study and play college baseball in the United States.
MTAG was invited to the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Spring Training to present MTAG’s organizational goals and beliefs to Kyle Stark, the Assistant General Manager. Shortly thereafter MTAG was invited to the Dominican Republic to complete multiple Immersion Projects under the watchful eye of Amaury Telemaco, the Latin American Pitching Coordinator. Telemaco helped MTAG identify the communities in need and built up trust in these communities for MTAG. The Pirates Organization has always strived to give back to the surrounding areas through community service, but partnering with MTAG gave them a way to impact these communities on a larger scale.
With the help of Pirates Charities and their financial support, MTAG was able to construct a baseball field in La Romana, Dominican Republic in November of 2015. The construction of this new field had such a profound impact on the community that Telemaco and the Pirates wanted to continue the partnership the following year. Telemaco said, “More Than A Game has done amazing things here in the Dominican Republic. They brought smiles and touched the hearts of the people in La Romana. The Pittsburgh Pirates want to continue their relationship with MTAG and their efforts to positively impact communities through the game of baseball.”
The following year the Pirates welcomed MTAG into their state-of-the-art academy in the Dominican Republic and allowed MTAG give a presentation about their accomplishments from the previous November to the Pirates players, coaches, and other staff members. This sparked a great deal of interest with many of the players, and a few were inspired to skip their morning workouts to help MTAG in the surrounding communities.
Shortly after arriving, word spread throughout the communities that MTAG was back and there was an excitement in the air. But once the children saw the Pirates players, they were star stuck. The players, many of whom were only 16 or 17, became the center of attention. They were painting, building mounds and batter’s boxes, pulling weeds, as well as playing catch and conversing with the children. It was apparent that the children were looking into their futures . . . as players with a Major League organization. Additionally, the Pirates players were receiving a life-changing perspective; they had the ability to positively influence their own communities by giving their time. It is often apparent when there is a tangible need for a new field or equipment, but when the players are able to put smiles on the children’s faces and change the attitude of their very own communities, the players began to realize their roles as mentors to the children and the community. This is what validates MTAG’s mission of demonstrating that baseball can and always will be “more than a game.”
In 2017, MTAG and the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to continue their partnership and work in the Dominican Republic by constructing or renovating fields, donating equipment, creating opportunities, and continuing to grow the game of baseball.