The author of charming, best-selling books on cod and salt, the incurably curious Kurlansky asks in this book, How is it that a small, impoverished Dominican town produced 79 Major League Baseball players between 1962 and 2008? (The list includes the Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal, the slugger Sammy Sosa, and the rising star of the New York Yankees Robinson Cano.) The answer begins with sugar: the long off-season allowed plenty of time for sports, and the sugar mills sponsored baseball teams. The children could only afford baseballs made of rolled up socks, which have an uneven trajectory, a replacement that turned out to be excellent training for aspiring hitters. Then the Dominican Republic got its big break: the Cuban Revolution shut down the flow of Cuban players, driving baseball scouts to San Pedro de Macorís. Now, the industry tradition is deeply engrained: the Dominican Republic has a high-quality winter league, an organized array of baseball academies and stadiums, and leading baseball families (such as the Alous and the Canos). Today, Dominican players account for about one-quarter of all minor leaguers -- and that excludes New Yorkers of Dominican origin, such as Alex Rodriguez.
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