South Florida’s booming Dominican Republic population creates unforgettable, festive atmosphere at 2017 World Baseball Classic.
By Chris Umpierre
MIAMI — With their arms wrapped around each other, a large group of Dominican fans started a chant we would hear over and over again.
“Ahora es!” they yelled. “Ahora es!”
The time was definitely now. Time not just for the Dominican national baseball team, but for South Florida’s booming Dominican population. Thousands of South Florida Dominicans took over Marlins Park on March 11, turning the sit-on-your-hands World Baseball Classic into a scream-out-loud World Cup match. The fans danced, sang, blew whistles, banged airhorns and played their national instrument – La Güira— as Dominicana staged a stirring comeback to beat the U.S. 7-5.
No one could remember a baseball game like this.
The energy of the Marlins Park record 37,446 fans was unmatched (when was the last time fans didn’t sit at a baseball game?) The commitment of the fans was unreal (the dancing began 30 minutes before game time). The flair of the fans was unprecedented (whistles for nine innings!). The comeback was jaw-dropping (Dominicana scored seven unanswered runs!”)
The fans were so loud that Team USA pitcher Marcus Stroman, a major leaguer may I remind you, admitted that it got to him on the mound.
Watching the game from the stands, I couldn’t help but think how this festive atmosphere was playing on TV. Not in the United States, but in the Dominican Republic. Picture yourself as a Dominican Republic native watching this game on TV. How could you not want to visit or move to Miami?
Miami’s Dominican population
Before we get back to the crowd, let’s discuss the South Florida Dominican population. Dominicans are one of the fastest-growing populations in South Florida. About 101,943 Dominicans live in Miami, Palm Beach and Broward counties, according to the 2010 Census.
The Dominican migration to South Florida began about 25 years ago, according to Miami historian Paul George. Political and economic turmoil led many Dominicans to emigrate to the United States. Dominicans also moved to Miami from New York because they wanted a tropical climate and Spanish-speaking neighborhoods.
When people think of Miami, many think of the large Cuban population. That’s not the full story. Dominicans, Venezuelans, Argentinians, Peruvians and all sorts of Latin Americans have also moved to South Florida.
Many Dominicans have settled into Allapattah—a neighborhood near downtown Miami. Some have nicknamed Allapattah “Little Santo Domingo.”
Allapattah has been a magnet for many immigrant communities over the years including Cubans and Central Americans. In Allapattah, 72 percent of residents are classified as Hispanics, of which Dominicans comprise a significant portion.
Dominicans’ favorites such as sancocho and mangú are served at Allapattah restaurants. A local park and a portion of Northwest 17th street, a main artery of the neighborhood, was named after Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the Dominican Republic’s founding fathers.
A Baseball Love Affair
Baseball is the Dominican Republic’s top sport.
From the discoveries of the Alous in the 1950s and 1960s to the baseball camps of the 1970s to the first modern Major League facilities in the mid-1980s, baseball academies in the Dominican Republic have a long history.
Now, 28 of the 30 Major League teams own academies in the country.
The number of Dominicans and Dominican All-Stars in the MLB is staggering. About a quarter of the 800-plus players on Major League Baseball teams in 2015 were born outside the United States. The Dominican Republic was the foreign country with the most— 83 players on opening day rosters in 2015.
Dominican standouts include Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado (who grew up in Hialeah in Miami), Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Canó, Seattle Mariners right fielder Nelson Cruz, New York Mets third baseman José Reyes and Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte. Retired Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz and retired Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez (who threw the first pitch at Saturday’s game) are also Dominican heroes.
Dominicans are family oriented and deeply patriotic.
While many Americans keep their patriotism on the inside, Dominicans wear it on their sleeves. It’s that Latin flair and effervescent personality.
Get thousands of them together cheering for their national team in an event that happens once every four years: it’s one big party.
We saw it all over Marlins Park.
Here’s some of the signs and shirts we saw:
“Yo Soy Del Patio”
“Dios Desayuno Mangu”
“Dominicana Hasta Tambora”*
*Tambora is a Dominican drum, meaning “Dominican All The Way”
The festive Marlins Park atmosphere was a singular event. When the Dominican Republic advanced to the next round in San Diego, the crowd was as jubilant and loud.
Where were the USA cheers?
A former colleague, David Dorsey, wrote about Team USA and how it boasted one of the best lineups to visit Fort Myers since the 1910s. USA played some games in Fort Myers, but the games didn’t generate a lot of enthusiasm.
Another former colleague, Deron Snyder, believes the timing of the World Baseball Classic is bad. Baseball fans are accustomed to meaningless spring baseball at this time. Therefore, they can’t get into the WBC.
I think if America’s top players competed on Team USA, the World Baseball Classic would generate more fan appeal. Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, Angeles outfielder Mike Trout, Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta and more aren’t playing on this year’s team.
Contrast that with Team Dominican Republic. Most of the country’s top players are playing for the Dominicana. The Dominican lineup is so loaded it has several all-stars such as shortstop Jean Segura and second baseman? Jonathan Villar were on the bench against the USA. And those who aren’t are cheering them on from TV and social media like Ortiz.
Siiiiiii……. yessssss💪🏿🇩🇴 pic.twitter.com/f6TW9TX5EY
— David Ortiz (@davidortiz) March 12, 2017
Dominicana won the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Each player is into the game, pumping his fist for a single.
Or take a look at how Nelson Cruz reacts to his majestic blast on Saturday (the home run gives the Dominican a 6-5 lead and we almost caught the ball! You can see us in red in the next section over).
We heard some USA cheers on Saturday, but not many. The cheers got drowned out by what could be the largest gathering of Dominican fans in South Florida history.
As we were leaving our seats after the game and heading up the aisle, some Dominican fans started a new chant.
While they love their homeland, there is no question Dominicans love the opportunities the United States has afforded them.