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Saturday, April 4, 2015

THE EASTERN STARS: HOW BASEBALL CHANGED the DOMINICAN TOWN of SAN PEDRO de MACORIS by Mark Kurlansky



Published in 2010 by Riverhead Books

The Eastern Stars is more a history of the Dominican Republic than a baseball book, but as author Mark Kurlansky clearly demonstrates, for the last 40 years or so the history of the Dominican Republic has clearly been molded and in some ways defined by its love of baseball. It is also a clear sign of the unhealthy state of economic affairs in a country when so many young people see no hope in moving up in the world except for playing professional baseball in America.


Kurlansky takes his readers through a meandering history of the Dominican Republic, moving backwards and forwards through time detailing a number of interesting stories about this Caribbean country but always coming back to the present to touch base and remind the readers that this is a baseball book, too. 


The Dominican Republic has had a long love affair with baseball thanks to American economic and military excursions into the country. It also has been so poorly managed by it various governments that for decades many young men have sacrificed everything in order to make it on to an American Major League Baseball team roster. Who can blame them - in 2006 ten percent of all major leaguers were from the Dominican Republic (p. 75). So many young men hope to win a contract, play for a few years and then return to the Dominican Republic and live like kings in their gated communities back in their hometowns.

Scouts prowl dusty sandlots looking for some spark of talent, even of the players are using balls made out socks and gloves made out of cardboard, the talent shines through. Or, at least they hope that it does.  Top prospects are enrolled in one of many "schools" that teach a lot of baseball and English and some math and science. In return, these schools get a cut of their contracts for helping to develop their talent. Even the Japanese teams have started sending scouts to the Dominican Republic.

As the title states, the real focus is the small fishing town of San Pedro de Macoris. It is unremarkable in every way except that it keeps producing major league baseball players. 

Why?

Kurlansky never comes out and says it but after reading so many pages about the Domincan Republic and its sad history the reader just knows that it is because there really isn't anything else. It's either baseball or fishing in ever-more-depleted waters for less and less fish for more and more work. Meanwhile, you can watch the SUVs of retired major leaguers pick their way around the potholes of roads that haven't been repaired in years and probably won't be anytime soon and know that the only rational choice is to put all of your effort into baseball and only baseball. Everything else is a sucker bet.

Note: many other reviewers have been critical of Kurlansky's detailing of some of the facts about the careers of some of the Dominican players the he describes, getting batting averages wrong and some of the dates wrong. No sport generates factoids like baseball and it is disappointing that Kurlansky has so many errors. But, read the book for what it was intended to be - a history of the Dominican Republic detailing how it became a sort of incubator for major league baseball players.

This book can be found on Amazon here: The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

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