MLB gives back to Dominican Republic

MLB gives back to Dominican

Through the years, the Dominican Republic has done much for Major League Baseball with its steady infusion of great talent, and Major League Baseball has done much for the Dominican with its unswerving commitment there to community service.

Now, there will be an opportunity to do even more with the creation of the MLB-USAID-Dominican Development Alliance, unveiled Wednesday in Santo Domingo.

The Alliance, which seeks to use baseball as a catalyst for improving the lives of the less fortunate in the Dominican, is a partnership between Major League Baseball, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Peace Corps and six well-known charitable non-profit institutions -- World Vision, Save the Children, Plan International, Esperanza International, Batey Relief Alliance and the Dominican Institute for Integrated Development.

The announcement of the Alliance came at the home of Robert Fannin, the United States Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. The overriding goal will be to mobilize the entire baseball family -- fans, players, teams and sponsors -- in support of the Alliance, which seeks to improve the quality of life for the less fortunate in the D.R. through improvements in areas such as education, health, youth development and job creation.

Joe Garagiola Jr., MLB senior vice president of baseball operations, was in the Dominican for Wednesday's announcement.

"Our commitment in the D.R. is certainly there for all to see," Garagiola said. "This is an opportunity to make that relationship even better, and that's a wonderful thing."

Garagiola sounded a rallying cry for the Alliance's mission by putting it in baseball terms.

"There is no excuse to sit in the dugout or bullpen on this one," Garagiola said.

As a starting point, MLB is providing office and staff time in its Santo Domingo headquarters. The Peace Corps will supply a full-time volunteer, and USAID is committing $1 million in matching funds over a three-year span. The different development organizations are putting up office space, time and personnel, as well as their fund-raising capabilities in the United States.

The Alliance has a goal of getting each signed player in the Dominican -- more than 500 per year -- to give something back to his community, and also for teams to help those communities where their academies are located.

"Let's say there's a Major League player from the Dominican who wants to refurbish a school in his hometown and had $20,000 to put forward," said Jeff Cohen, program officer for USAID. "Then USAID, through this matching grant program, would put $20,000 of U.S. government resources together so that the player or team or fan-base group could have their resources go even farther."

Cohen believes that baseball is indeed a catalyst for bringing people together for the greater good.

"When this idea started to be discussed with the Major League Baseball office here," Cohen said, "we thought it was important for the U.S. government to bring to the table 47-plus years of working in the D.R., as well as the strong partnerships we've developed with non-governmental organizations. These are folks who know how to do community development at the grassroots level. We know they would do the right thing with any resources we could generate using baseball as a catalyst."

The Alliance partners are hopeful that the U.S. fan base will be a big component in the initiative.

"The biggest potential is the fan base," Cohen said. "American baseball fans love their Dominican players. The more they know about where these players come from and the hardships they often endure on their way to the Major Leagues, the more they will understand the challenges facing young Dominicans. Not just the boys looking to play baseball in the Major Leagues, but the communities at large. We're hoping to identify some partnerships between communities in the U.S., baseball and those Dominicans trying to have a better shake at life."

John Seibel, consultant to the Dominican Republic MLB office, echoes the sentiment that the U.S. fan base is a key element.

"We're really interested in getting groups in the States, who may be fans of a particular Dominican player on their Major League or Minor League team, to chip in," said Seibel. "It just doesn't have to be a financial donation. I think they could even come down here as volunteers and help. It's a fan-based type of thing, and we want to get as many people involved as possible."

Lou Melendez, MLB vice president for international baseball operations, was also in Santo Domingo for the Alliance announcement.

"How it grows over time remains to be seen, but MLB is sort of the springboard," Melendez said. "You can begin to address various social issues in the Dominican Republic that we see on a day-to-day basis."

Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.