My first trip to the Dominican Republic as a scout for MLB Scouting Bureau was better than any Christmas morning. I felt like a kid walking downstairs, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes in order to focus on all the sparkling new toys that Santa left.
I could hardly contain my emotional state, as I looked around the stadium at all the veteran and rookie scouts from all 30 MLB teams. It was the annual International Prospect Day held every March. The day these teenagers have worked toward since the first time someone told them they had a gift.
The Blue Team was made up of Dominican and Colombian players against the Red Team of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Mexico, Bahamas, Curacao, and Panama.
Some of the players were already in negotiations for big contracts and were simply going through the motions while trying not to get hurt. Others had everything riding on having a big day in order to turn some heads and hopefully get enough interest to sign on July 2nd.
I could overhear the rumors of certain players getting upwards of three to five million dollar signing bonuses.
I couldn’t believe that a 16-year-old kid who had never seen a professional pitch was going to cash in a life-changing lottery ticket of that magnitude.
This was my first international showcase and our assignments were being doled out by our supervisor. I was informed that I would be evaluating Dominican Shortstop, Yasel Antuna and a pitcher whose name escapes me. Quickly, one of the veteran scouts pointed out that Antuna had already been offered close to four million dollars by the Washington Nationals.
Awesome! No pressure to get this report correct.
I was flush with anxiety and immediately felt a lack of confidence in my ability. It was more nerve-racking than being at the plate with two outs and the game on the line. I was definitely going to be compared to other veteran scouts who had been watching this kid since he was 12 or 13 years old.
All of the reports we write as MLB Bureau scouts are submitted and reviewed before being added to the EBIS International database for all the MLB scouting departments to scour. It isn’t just one team of experts looking at your work as it is when you scout for an organization it is every team of experts judging your knowledge, competence and writing skills. The challenge was greater than anything I had ever been tasked with in school, the Marines or life up to this point.
I sat there intently trying to keep up with what was going on. Taking it all in and still trying to maintain focus on my players. Talking back and forth with scouts sitting around me. Picking up tidbits here and there. Scribbling notes all over my clipboard. Asking questions. Sneaking peeks at my neighbor’s paper, anything I could think of so as to not look clueless.
I watched these kids, and they are still just kids, run around trying to do something that stood out. I had a vivid flashback to the first day of boot camp and the words of my Drill Instructor while standing on the yellow footprints of MCRD Paris Island, SC.
He said, “There are only two ways to get noticed in a large competing group, do something outstanding or do something stupid.”
I quickly decided that if I did neither, maybe I could get through the next 16 weeks of hell unnoticed.
When I stopped thinking about myself, I started to feel for those kids. They were all trying to do something outstanding and not one of them was looking to go unnoticed. The pressure had to be overwhelming, to say the least. All the long hot days in the cage, the avocado and milk protein shakes, the time away from their families in order to train at the academies. It all boiled down to this day.
I can’t help but think of the future. How long will it take before the international market takes over the domestic market? How long before U.S. players are outnumbered on every roster in both leagues?
Currently, almost one-third of all MLB players are born outside of the United States. Another 45% born on foreign soil litter the ranks of the minor league system at the same time. The Coaches Development Programs (CDP) put on by Major League Baseball’s International Development department is rapidly exposing the popularity of the game. The brand of baseball is growing exponentially worldwide.
In the first six months of 2018, the World Baseball and Softball Confederation has 72 of the 125 countries currently ranked by a competitive play point system. The points are accumulated through internationally recognized tournaments for age groups 12u to 23u including the World Baseball Classic (considered an amateur event).
It is no surprise that the United States (5025pts) is ranked #1, and close behind #2 Japan (4609pts) lead the hunt. Korea (4158pts), Cuba (3152pts) and Mexico (2613pts) round out the Top Five.
Where is the Dominican Republic ranked? MLB organizations sign north of 250 players every year from that small island. How can they not be in the Top Five? What about Venezuela, or Panama? They too produce a large number of prospects every year.
The truth is those countries have a hard time keeping up with the point system. With issues such as visa grants and travel expenses, it is financially difficult for them logistically, to pack up every age division and go to Asia or the United States for tournaments. If you don’t participate and compete on the global stage you don’t earn points.
The growth of the game can additionally be credited in large part to the internet, where a massive amount of young boys and girls across the world can tune in and watch games through numerous available streaming sites and of course catch highlights and bloopers on YouTube. This interest from the youth around the world is leading the way.
Did you know that both China (Hai-cheng Gong) and South Africa (Gift Ngoepe) now have players that have reached the highest level of the sport? It’s true.
Soccer, er, Fútbol may still be the world’s most popular sport but the national pastime of the United States, Japan, Korea, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Panama to name a few are still loving the game within the game. They continue to pass on the tradition from generation to generation. More and more countries are jumping on board and introducing the sport to their youth as they are experiencing a rise in the number of kids that are looking for other sports to learn and embrace.
I spoke with a friend just yesterday that is pioneering a grassroots youth program in Kosovo. He plans to join forces with other Western European countries in an effort to expand the game in that area of the globe.
Kudos to you Michael Johnstone!
I can’t really put a percentage of growth on my prediction but I feel confident in saying that the number of countries that will be playing this sport and the number of roster spots that will be occupied by international players at the professional levels is only going to rise in the very near future.
Who knows maybe I will live long enough to see the Dodgers sign a switch-hitting catcher from Yemen!
Hell better yet, maybe I will be the one that signs him.
Now that would be outstanding!
Love the Game. Live the Dream
Photo Credits: NotesfromtheSally.com, esquire.com, mlb.com