Softball culture here reminds me a lot of softball in Hartford. There are a lot of similar personalities from players on my team here and players who I played with in the U.S. The team here is full of Manny Ramirez type personalities: grown men who share a passion for a kids’ game, pulling pranks on one another and are apt to do something you’ve never seen before in an organized sports game at any moment.
[In case you are not familiar with Manny being Manny, here are some of his antics. Some additional Manny being Manny highlights: he once left his paycheck in a pair of shoes in the visitors clubhouse, he peed mid-inning inside the Green Monster; my personal favorite: he climbed the wall and high-fived a fan while the play was still live before turning a double play; he lost his $15,000 diamond earring sliding into third base; he refused to stand with a Little Leaguer for the national anthem during a public relations promotion.]
In both Hartford and Haina, there is a high level of competition, loyal fans, love of the game, showmanship and alcohol are integral to the event, and everything is in Spanish. I’ve played just a handful of games with my community’s team, but each one has been memorable. My first game, I wanted to prove I was a legit player who would help our team win and not just being given special treatment as the token gringo. I played okay, not great, but also not embarrassing myself and our team won easily. My second game, I decided on the way there that I was going to make a statement and hit a home run. Again, playing around so much talent (a good number of our players played in the minor leagues in the U.S., while others were signed to camps in the D.R.) and others who haven’t seen me play I felt I had something to prove and could do so with a home run. My first at bat I popped out to third, but the third baseman dropped the ball and as it kicked away I took off for second, just beating his throw. Later on, as I was on first I mentioned to Chacho how the third baseman resembled “Kung Fu Panda” (a similarly stocky third baseman who plays with the SF Giants – the third baseman also happened to be decked from head to toe in Giants gear). It turned out later that he had gotten all the Giants gear from Melky Cabrera (last year’s All Star Game MVP who is from a nearby neighborhood) who he is close friends with and works as a trainer for.
My next at bat I connected pretty well to the gap in left center, I heard a fan yell “It’s a Home run!” and I slowed into my HR trot thinking “I did it!” until I looked up and saw the ball hit the wall. I ended up with a long single. My next at bat I hit another deep ball, but was again held to a single because Bulin, a chubby jokester whose pants are always falling down, was in front of me on the bases and was not going to go first to third, unless there was a jumbo waiting for him there. My final at bat came against my friend Chacho, one of our best pitchers who we traded to the other team to pitch against us, as we were beating them so badly. Confident from my previous at bats and ready to win bragging rights against one of the biggest mouths on the team, I instead ended up striking out on a foul tip – which Chacho will never let me forget.
Yesterday we played a team from Nagua, which was supposed to be really good. Over 20 of us showed up to play and we ended up splitting the team into two squads, one to start the first game and one to start the second. The Nagua team brought in two vans full of fans and by the start of the game there were well over 100 people watching, with the stands full as well as the entire area behind the backstop. The Nagua team showed up late, which allowed our team full of Mannys to rack up 8 pre-game “fines”. As we broke our huddle, a few more players were fined for not yelling our comical call and response team chant in unison (Chacho/Bulin: “Who made us?” Team: “Christ!”, “What’s our name?” “The Traitors!”). Each fine is $100 pesos, which is the price of one large beer, and where all the fine money goes. The Evangelicals on the team are allowed to buy Gatorade or Malta Morena instead of beer if they are fined. Next to our dugout there was a giant barrel full of ice and jumbos which were opened up for every fine as well as for every home run. Other memorable moments: Chichi hitting the first of his 2 HR’s: a towering home run which he stagnantly watched for a good 5 seconds as it flew over the wall before stylishly flipping the bat and finally breaking towards first base, Roberto (a former Expos minor league pitcher who threw 98mph while still in his teens and still a five tool player today in his late 30′s) threw out a runner tagging up from third base on a fly ball to center – one of the best throws I’ve ever seen live, an old neighbor of mine walked on to the field and threw a crumpled up $100 peso bill at the batter daring him to hit a home run and take the money, Roberto walking up to the batter’s box while having a conversation on his cell phone before sticking the phone in his back pocket, Jonny reaching in his back pocket and taking out his car keys and giving them to the umpire to hold. Perhaps my favorite moment was when one of our relief pitchers – an older more serious looking player – gets out on to the mound and starts to shake before throwing the first pitch. At first he starts to shake out his arm as a pitcher might normally do, but then as the batter is in the box waiting for the pitch, he begins to violently shake his whole body. Other players on the field begin to shake their bodies too as the fans go crazy and cheer for “el temblador” (the shaker). The batter never stood a chance, by the time el temblador finally got around to throwing a pitch, it was the fastest I’ve ever seen in a softball game (albeit I am still relatively new to the softball world).
Being the only white player in an area where few if any, white non-Dominicans ever step foot, I always have more attention on me during these games. I recognized a good number of my neighbors in the stands, and a number of fans knew who I was calling me out by name even though I didn’t recognize them. As I took the field, I heard one fan yell the typical one or two English phrases people generally know “Americano! How are you?”, “Watchya name?”. It is definitely an exercise in concentration, as every little act is magnified. As I fielded a routine ground ball, I heard one of my neighbors yell “That’s my gringo! Daniel is good!!” Where each time I took the field I felt I had something extra to prove to the other players, each time it was rumored among the other team that I was a MLB player brought in as a ringer (never mind that I was batting 8th or that spring training is already underway).
In my first at bat of the game yesterday, I had the bases loaded and two outs as I stepped up to the plate. After swinging and missing, I lined a soft drive into the gap in right center, scoring two before Bulin got thrown out at third. I enjoyed the extra attention and trying to put on a show for the fans, as well as being part of an elite team of guys who are in a sense looked up to and talked about throughout the community. As I walked down the street yesterday, a neighbor called me over and said “You’re a traitor!” I was taken a back for a second before realizing he was referring to our softball team name “The Traitors” or as it is slightly misspelled on our jerseys “Los Traidore”.
As I often have compromisos on Sundays (either Chicas group meetings, camps, conferences, etc.) I haven’t been around to play with the team as often as I would like. I enjoy the atmosphere, teammates, and the competition which I’ve missed in not playing on an organized team in so long.
Every Sunday is a big celebration in the D.R. After the games, both teams and their bus of fans headed over to “El Pailon”, a night club which also brings in strippers and has a pool on Sundays. While 2pm might have seemed early to head out clubbin’, the colmados are already blaring bachata, merengue and salsa by 9 or 10am on Sunday mornings, with the usual crowd out front already drinking and playing dominoes. I look forward to playing more games with the team and will try to get some pictures of the characters on the team soon.