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The Voyage of Spectacle Dominican Baseball

The Voyage

Spectacles

Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

The Position

Bali, Indonesia

The Pictures

The Voyage of Spectacle

Dominican Baseball

Our original plan, made some 12 months ago, called for a stop in the Dominican Republic around now.  Although this stop was later revised out of existence (until, of course, we ended up halfway needing to stop), I still remembered that baseball season was in full swing in late January.

Upon our arrival in Puerto Plata, I immediately checked the internet to see what the beisbol happenings were, and I was pleased to see that we were just a two days away from the beginning of the Dominican championship series between Licey and Aguilas Cibaenas, the two most storied teams in the Dominican Republic.  This is a major rivalry – trust me and this two-year-old article from the S.F. Chronicle (although they are dead-ass wrong about who the “Yankees” are).

The Two Teams Playing for the Dominican Championship -- Licey Versus AguilasAguilas is the “new money” club.  Although they have been around for 70 years, eight of their 19 titles have come in the last 12 years.  Of the two, they have a richer owner and a more mercenary attitude – a bit like the Yankees. 

Licey is the more “old-school” of the two clubs.  In existence since 1907, Licey also has 19 titles, but most of theirs came back when the Celtics were good at basketball.  Licey also has a reputation of being much more community friendly and having a stronger interest in developing young talent.

The winner of this series goes on to play in the Caribbean World Series, an annual tournament between the D.R., Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.  The Dominican champion has won six of the last 10 Caribbean World Series titles, so one could make the argument that the Dominican championship series is the “real” Caribbean World Series.

It would be hard to find something more “up our alley” than this.  Obviously, we had to go.

Roberto, our Rental Car, and the Mule that Lives in the Lot Next to AvisThis is a best-of-nine series, and Game One was played at the 18,077-seat Estadio Cibao in Santiago, about a one-hour drive from Puerto Plata.  Given the insane nature of automotive transportation here, we opted to pay to have Roberto (our “fixer” – more on him and his family later) rent a car, and he came with us to Santiago.

Roberto is a Licey fan.  Given their (1) underdog nature, (2) general “good-guy” role, and, most importantly, (3) lovely blue uniforms, Melissa also became a “Liceyita” after stating “I like blue.”  I, on the other hand, decided to try to experience what it’s like to be a Yankee fan.  I became an “Aguilucho.”

Roberto has been absolutely fantastic, and one reason for this is that he really knows Parking Lot at Jhony Restaurantwhere the good restaurants are.  About 15 minutes outside of Puerto Plata, he pulled off the road and down a dirt driveway.  At the bottom of the driveway was a pile of burning trash and about 25 cars parked in a disorganized jumble.  This is where we’re having lunch, eh?

We walked up the hill to the jam-packed Restaurant Jhony, which was tremendous.  Delicious grilled lobsters all around, cold Presidentes, cheap bill.  Perfect.  Roberto is a wise man.

Eventually, we made it to Santiago, the Dominican  Republic’s second-largest city.  I can’t say I’d recommend Santiago to you.  Puerto Plata has poverty and garbage (we’re not staying at the surrounding Potemkin tourist villages, but its character more than compensates).  Not much character in Santiago.

As we tried to park the car and scalp some tickets, we were absolutely mobbed – and this was four hours before game time.  After we picked up some hats (Licey for Melissa and Roberto, Aguilas for me), it only got worse.  Random men on the street would (good naturedly and always with a smile) make all sorts of throat-slashing gestures at Melissa and offer concomitant comments regarding Licey’s chances.  Trying to scalp tickets in a foreign language is tough enough if you have a seating chart of the stadium; without one, you’re just asking to be ripped off.

Eventually, we convinced some Aguilas officials to let us in to see the stadium so we could figure out the section in which we should buy tickets.  They were very nice, and it was cool to see a bit of batting practice with essentially no one else inside.

We headed back outside, negotiated with about eight different scalpers, and secured three tickets aboutSantiago, Dominican Republic 20 rows behind the first base dugout for $40 each.  Tickets in hand, we decided to walk through Santiago in search of a pre-game libation.  This proved surprisingly taxing.  In our quest for a beer, we walked over a bridge, looked to the right, were startled, and had to take a picture.  I’ll let it speak for itself.  We ended up at a surprisingly charming car-wash-by-day, roadhouse-by-night establishment, had a few Presidentes, and made it back to the stadium.

Inside, the atmosphere was great.  Melissa took extensive video, and eventually we’ll get some of it up on the site.  Santiago native Jose Lima (yes, that Jose Lima) was on the hill for Aguilas, clearly “representing” for his people, and soft-throwing journeyman (to say the least) left-handed gringo sacrifice Lindsay Gulin was pitching for Licey.

In the top of the first, Lima took his usual histrionics completely over the top, nearly being ejected for arguing balls and strikes.  He then proceeded to set down Licey in order and mostly shut them down for nearly seven innings. 

Señor Gulin didn’t have such a nice time.  Before leaving the game, he faced four batters. Two of them hit home runs and all of them scored.  Aguilas ended up with a 6-0 lead by the end of the first.  Given that (a) Estadio Cibao has 18,077 seats and only one gate, and (b) everyone here is on “Island Time,” the game was essentially over when the stadium was no more than 1/3 full.  These people make Dodgers fans look prompt.  This wasn’t a problem for us.  Roberto had clearly never seen either of these teams play in person.  He was thrilled just to be there, even if his team was getting killed.  Melissa and I were able to enjoy the Aguilas mascot (easily the greatest, most arrogant and aggressive sports mascot I’ve ever seen).  This guy is awesome enough that he has a real chance of being killed in the line of duty.  He taunted Licey batters in a manner that would get him fined/expelled in any American major league sport and placed him well within blast radius of a late-fouled pitch from a right-handed batter.

We also were able to enjoy the Aguilas Cheerleaders.  I will not in any way be in trouble with Melissa for telling you that the women in the Dominican Republic are beyond beautiful.  The Dominican is also a highly machismo culture in which female beauty is overly exalted (not quite like Venezuela, but you get the idea) and other female contributions are mostly ignored.  Given these circumstances, let’s just say that jobs with the top-of-the-dugout-dancing Aguilas cheerleaders are certainly hard to get, and the talent on display reflects this.  If any American Major League Baseball team instituted dugout-top dance teams, you’d think it was stupid, even if the dancers were this caliente.  And, yet, this certainly was not stupid – along with the mascot, it helped create a home-field advantage that you otherwise simply can’t get in an 18,077-seat stadium.  It was intimidating.  Licey was in big trouble.

After a few innings, the only Aguilas player not to have a hit was Miguel Tejada.  Yes, THAT Miguel Tejada – 2002 American League MVP Miguel Tejada.  This was Major-League caliber baseball (with at least 8 Major Leaguers on the field), and these fans know what they are expecting to see.  By the 8th inning, Tejada rectified the situation, golfing an ankle-high fastball over the left-field wall for a two-run homer that put the game out of reach.  Aguilas ended up winning the game 9-3 and winning the series five games to two.  Damn Yankees.  More Pictures


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