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  Miguel Tejada and the Dominican Dream
Dave Hudgens Hitting Article


 
By Dave Hudgens

Product Code: ART8
 

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Miguel Tejada and the Dominican Dream

by Dave Hudgens

 

Driving from the airport in Santo Domingo to the outskirts of the Oakland Aís complex in La Victoria requires a tremendous amount of faith. The road is dangerous and full of potholes. Natives would rather use their car horns then their common sense to operate their vehicles. Danger aside, the scene outside is enough to make even the toughest skinned individual melt. Mud shacks, sewer lined streets, poor half clothed children begging for money or food - all a part of the everyday life in the Dominican Republic barrios. This is a far cry from the beautiful Caribbean beach scenes we so often view on TV. This is survival.

 

Unlike the land of opportunity that we live in, there is only one hope, one dream, to take someone out of this life of destitution and poverty - baseball. Young American boys dream of being the next Derek Jeter - to become rich and famous. The Dominican boys dream as well. They dream of becoming the next Pedro Martinez or the next Miguel Tejada. The difference in those dreams is that the Dominicansí dream might give them a house, a car, perhaps indoor plumbing. It might give them hope.

 

The Dominican programs of major league teams have a spring training, summer, and instructional league. They house the players, feed them, and care for their medical needs. The players donít mind leaving their families and living at the team complex because in doing so they are guaranteed a bed and food. Most of the players are malnourished and require medical attention.

 

Growing pains are real and it helps to know that they are universal to all who play the game. Although it is tough to go through a coachís prejudice or striking out in the bottom of the 9th with the bases loaded, it is nothing in comparison to what these Third World players go through. The following excerpts are from the book, Away Games, by Marcos Breton and Jose Luis Villegas. I think youíll find the stories about Miguel Tejadaís growing pains touching.

 

(1987) By the age of eleven, Miguel had stopped going altogether (to school). Instead, he worked at a garment factory in Bani, washing clothes and ironing pants and shirts by the dozen, pressing garments until he grew woozy from the smell of starch and steam. During this period, Miguel would rise early in the morning, work, and then return to playing baseball by the afternoon, never missing a chance to take a few swings.

 

(1989) Mora Tejada (Miguelís mother) died on December 21st at the age of forty-nine, passing away in her sleep. Miguel has very few recollections of those days, except praying on his knees to her every night before he went to sleep. For a time, he went back to the way he was as a child refugee - he simply lived, existed. His life had no direction and was filled with only the obligation to make money - a feeling heightened by the fact his father left to look for work in another town. So did Juansito, who was five years older than Miguel. Other family members scattered as well, leaving thirteen-year old Miguel and sixteen-year old Denio to fend for themselves. Often, the Tejada boys would rely on neighbors to eat. Of all the hardships Miguel had endured, this was the worst. He readily admits now that he all but gave up once she was gone. He stopped playing baseball for a short time.

 

(1993) Taking the field on his first day at shortstop, Miguel was feeling cocky, feeling he could handle any line drive hit his direction. And in the very first inning, Miguel got his first test. A teenager from the neighborhood hit a hard grounder that took one, a second, and then a third bounce before reaching him. Steadying his feet, Miguel planted himself and - following the ball with his eyes- positioned his hands at chest level. But on that last bounce, the ball jumped hard off a rock and shot straight up, crashing into his lips and front teeth and spilling blood all over his shirt. Laughter rang out across the diamond as Miguel fell backward and rolled over, clutching his mouth with his hands. With tears in his eyes and blood on his hands, Miguel picked up the ball, but it was far too late to get the runner at first. Miguel was disoriented, and he felt his face throbbing as his lips swelled and the blood dried on the front of his shirt. But the game kept going and more balls came at him, bouncing off his chest, his arms, his shins. Barefoot and hurting from his first taste as a shortstop, Miguel turned away from the others and did what he often did after a game. He ran toward home wondering what he was going to eat that night, wondering whether he would ever escape Los Barrancones. For weeks after his 17th birthday, when no professional team showed a real interest in him, Miguel felt as he had on that first day he played shortstop. He felt totally and completely alone.

 

Miguel did not go unnoticed. The Aís ended up signing Miguel and sending him to the states for his first spring training in 1995. I have had the pleasure of working with him since 1996. As a minor league player, he was one of the most determined and talented young ball players I had ever seen. He could throw, run, and hit for power. He was young and had no clue what he was doing. He had to be developed from square one, but he had a determination that allowed him to figure out how to get things done.

 

As a young kid he used to allow his anger to get the best of him because he wanted to make it to the big leagues so quickly and so badly. Once he realized that the anger not only wasnít helping him, but in fact was actually hurting him, he turned that anger into focus and started learning how to work to attain his goals. He improved every year. He was small when he signed and ended up growing to his current height of 5í9. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in heart. I donít know of a harder worker. After three and a half years in the minor leagues, Miguel realized his dream, and he was called up to the Major Leagues in 1998.

 

As Americans, we are able to provide so much to these young hopefuls. We bring them out of poverty and give them an opportunity for a new life. However, I would be remiss if I didnít mention the things they teach us. Either before or after their street games of baseball are over, these young men go to work. Most Dominican boys start working around the age of five or six. This is a land where Nintendos, Play Stations, and Game Boys donít exist. The intangibles are obvious - hope, courage, longsuffering. The baseball aptitude is a little less obvious, but there none the less. The Dominican players play the game.

 

During a workout, the Aís Farm Director, Keith Lieppman, and I were talking about hitting. They noticed that few, if any, of the Dominican players have long swings. They may have other problems, but a long swing is not one of them. Then they were able to put it together Ė it is because Dominicans never swing an aluminum bat.

 

Generally speaking, they swing old broken bats or sticks. Thatís one of the reasons why they are so good - they have to figure out how to hit the ball with what they have, which is not much. Their playing fields are dirt and weeds. They have learned to field and catch without gloves. Baseball and survival is their life. Dreams sometimes do come true. The next time I make that treacherous drive from the airport to the complex and peer into the faces of the young boys playing on the streets, I canít help but wonder which one will be the next one to have his dream come true. As an American, Iím grateful to be a part, even an insignificant part, of it.

 

- Dave Hudgens has been involved with the best of baseball for over 30 years. He is currently the Minor League Hitting Coordinator for the Cleveland Indians. Prior to that he was a longtime hitting coach in the Oakland Athletics' organization.

Be sure to check out Coach Hudgens'
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