The Role of Buscones in the Dominican Republic


Austin Banta

Background


The Dominican Republic is one of the most well known producers of Major League Baseball players in the world. Since being introduced to the Dominican Republic from Cuba in the 1890s, the baseball's popularity has steadily increased throughout the Dominican Republic. Baseball was originally introduced as a form of entertainment for workers on sugarcane fields, leading to the formation of both amateur and professional leagues.[1] In 1956, Osvaldo Virgil became the first Dominican to play in a Major League Baseball (MLB) game. Today, the Dominican Republic contributes more foreign-born players to MLB than any other country. Because of the large number of Dominicans attempting to make it to the MLB, there are also a large number of sports agents, also known as buscones, who play a variety of roles in the lives of baseball players and their families.[2]

Buscones Overview


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Dominican player Esmailyn Gonzalez with his buscon
Buscones, Spanish for searchers, play a variety of roles in baseball in the Dominican Republic; buscones are scouts, trainers, agents, and businessmen.[3] Buscones are often native Dominicans, but can also be Americans, like baseball’s most prominent agent, Scott Boras.[4] Many buscones view their work as an investment, as their goal is to find players who will ultimately sign a contract with an MLB team. Once the player signs their first contract, the buscon collects a substantial percentage of the player’s signing bonus. The fee charged by a buscon can be as much as 50 percent of the signing bonus.[5]

Scouting


One of the primary roles of buscones is to scout the Dominican Republic baseball talent pool. The goal of scouting the country is to find the most talented players who have the best chance of one day signing a contract with an MLB team. Buscones begin scouting players when they are as young as 11, in part because they are eligible to sign with a MLB team at the age of 16.[3]

The opening day rosters of MLB during the 2012 season included 95 Dominicans (the total number of active players on opening day MLB rosters was 856). Dominicans accounted for over 11 percent of players, and 32 percent of the 293 total foreign-born players.[7] The immense talent hailing from the Dominican Republic is why buscones are so eager to scout and find the next great player, like Albert Pujols, a native Dominican who is considered to be one of the greatest hitters of all time.[6]


In addition to the 95 Dominicans on opening day MLB active rosters, there are over 1,600 minor league Dominican baseball players, which make up around 25 percent of all minor league players.[7] Because of the great amount of Dominican players who make up major and minor league baseball teams, buscones are extremely eager to represent young players in the Dominican Republic, with the hope that each player eventually signs a professional contract.

Financial Impact


As mentioned in earlier sections, one of the main ways in which buscones impact Dominican baseball players is through the collection of a portion of a player’s first signing bonus. The monetary collection is considered a fee for the services provided for the player while a client of the buscon. These services include a wide range of things, like the buscon’s providing of training and skill development, exposure to teams, and contract negotiation. While training and developing players, buscones also often provide material things like housing, food, water, clothing and equipment.[2]

Because of the relative meager economic state of the Dominican Republic (it is among the poorest countries in Latin America[2]), buscones often find themselves in a position with leverage relative to the players. When buscones scout and find players, it is common that the players and their families are living an impoverished lifestyle. As a result, buscones often make loans to the players. These loans usually come with very high interest rates, which provides a greater return on investment for the buscones. If the loans are not repaid, buscones have even greater leverage in terms of the percentage of the signing bonus they are owed.[4]

Academic Impact


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The Dominican training facility of the MLB's Pittsburgh Pirates
Due to the young age of eligibility to sign a contract with an MLB team, school is often neglected by young baseball players in the Dominican Republic. It is not uncommon for players to drop out of school completely when training with a buscon.
[2] Consequently, if a player never signs a contract with a team, or is released from a team shortly after signing a contract, the player has little to no education to fall back on. Failure to accomplish the goal of reaching the MLB leads players back to the Dominican Republic, where they are no longer an investment in the eyes of buscones. Because of the players’ lack of formal education, they often find themselves either working undesirable jobs or becoming buscones themselves.[3]


To combat the lack of education among Dominican baseball players, many training facilities run by buscones require at least part time schooling. All MLB training facilities located in the Dominican require English courses, and some teams, such as the Pittsburgh Pirates, require players to be in the classroom five days a week.[3]

Cultural & Economic Impact


Besides being a job to players attempting to make it to the MLB, baseball in the Dominican Republic is a form of entertainment, like Flamenco in Spain or Argentinian Cinema. Baseball’s Dominican roots are as a form of entertainment in sugar refineries, and baseball continues to entertain today, whether as a game in the local neighborhood among children, or adults cheering for the Dominican Republic national team.[8] The impact of buscones, however, contributes to the pressure players feel to make it to professional baseball, as it is seen as one of the only realistic ways out of poverty in the Domincan Republic.[3]

Economically, like coffee in Columbia, baseball and buscones impact the Dominican Republic. Baseball's economic contribution is noticeable, but not substantial, to the country. Most significantly, the spike in construction of training facilities in the Dominican Republic has boosted the economy, as millions of dollars are spent every year to construct and operate the facilities. In addition, buscones have an impact on the economy through the development of outstanding professional players. As players become well-known in the MLB, their association with the Dominican Republic leads to a slight increase in the country’s growing tourism industry.

References


  1. ^
    Klein, Alan M. Sugarball: The American Game, the Dominican Dream. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.
  2. ^ Meyer, Carrie A., and Seth Kuhn. "Effects of Major League Baseball on Economic Development in the Dominican Republic." George Mason University (n.d.): n. pag. George Mason University. Web. 03 Dec. 2012. <http://mason.gmu.edu/~cmeyer/Meyer-MLB&DR.pdf>.
  3. ^
    Gregory, Sean. "Baseball Dreams: Striking Out in the Dominican Republic." Time. Time, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2012 <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2004099-1,00.html>.
  4. ^ Schmidt, Michael S. "Sports Agent’s Loans to Poor Players Pose Concerns." The New York Times 23 Nov. 2010: A1. Print.
  5. ^ Schmidt, Michael S. "New Exotic Investment: Latin Baseball Futures." The New York Times 18 Nov. 2010: A1. Print.
  6. ^
    Blyleven, Bert. "Meet Albert Pujols, the Modern-day Babe." NBC Sports. NBC, 06 Sept. 2009. Web. 03 Dec. 2012. <http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/32666583/ns/sports-baseball/>.
  7. ^
    Winters, Keith. "Dominican Baseball Players on MLB Rosters 2012." The Dominican Baseball Guy. N.p., 07 Apr. 2012. Web. 03 Dec. 2012. <http://www.dominicanbaseballguy.com/2012/04/dominican-baseball-players-on-mlb.html>.
  8. ^
    "Baseball in the Dominican Republic." I Love Baseball. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2012. <http://ilovebaseball.org/dominican-republic.html>.