The pandemic that brought the whole world to a halt delayed the steadfast celebration that many of us may have previously taken for granted. One year later, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are ready to begin and baseball returns to the Olympics for the first time since 2008. Each team will get a preview article where we discuss a bit about baseball in the country, the team’s route to Tokyo, and which players to look for on the Olympic stage. For a refresher on the rules and format of the tournament, please refer back to Nicole Cahill’s preview article, which can be found here.
The Road to Tokyo for Team Dominican Republic
When the Dominican Republic (DR) faces Japan next Wednesday, July 28th, in the inaugural game of the baseball competition at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, 29 years will have passed since the last time they participated in this kind of tournament.
In that opportunity, Barcelona 1992 was the stage in which they finished sixth in a pool of teams that included Japan, USA, Chinese Taipei, and the eventual champion, Cuba.
This time, Tokyo will host them together with the representations from México, South Korea, Israel, and the familiar faces from Japan and the USA.
DR, after failing to do it in the 2019 Premier 12 qualifier and in the 2021 Americas Pre-Olympics tournament, earned its spot by winning the 2021 Baseball Final Pre-Olympics, in which they faced teams from Venezuela and Netherlands.
They started beating Venezuela seven to ten in their first game, and then the Netherlands four to three. This moved them to the final and decisive game, again against Venezuela, for the only available ticket to the Olympics.
They didn’t start well that final game after Venezuela took the lead three to nothing, with a three-run homer from Diego Rincones:
A mighty fly ball from the Venezuelan right-hander, but unfortunately for his team, that was going to be the last time they’d be leading the game as DR gradually took advantage of it.
DR ended up winning eight to five, getting the final out when pitcher Jairo Asencio made Venezuelan Alexander Palma hit an easy ground ball to second base, for the final out, in the middle of a mini rebellion in the ninth inning.
Dominican Republic, in its third attempt, punched their ticket for these Summer Olympics games.
Baseball in the Dominican Republic
To say that baseball is the most popular sport in the Dominican Republic is an understatement; there is no competition in the public’s preferences against it, as almost everyone in the island nation is a fan and has a favorite team from the local professional league.
This league is known as LIDOM, for its acronym in Spanish, founded in 1951, but its origins go back to the early 1920s, and consists of six teams playing all around the country, namely Águilas Cibaeñas, Estrellas Orientales, Gigantes del Cibao, Leones del Escogido, Tigres del Licey, and Toros del Este.
They all play the local championship from October to January, and the winner represents the country in the prestigious Caribbean Series, against representatives of México, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Venezuela.
Aguilas and Tigres are the most successful teams with 22 local championships, although Tigres won two in the pre-LIDOM era.
Dominican Republic has produced some of the most successful players in MLB; names like Albert Pujols, Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Juan Marichal, Sammy Sosa, Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Adrian Beltre, and Nelson Cruz among a long list of others, are just a sample of the all-time Dominican greats.
And, an impressive number of new protagonists star daily in every headline around the baseball world which replicate the achievements of exciting young players like Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Jose Ramirez, Ketel Marte, Eloy Jimenez, Rafael Devers, Dinelson Lamet, Luis Castillo, Teoscar Hernandez, Freddy Peralta, Franmil Reyes, among others.
This incredible output of fantastic players, results partly because of the big influence from MLB teams on the local baseball stage, all of them having academies for the discovery and development of young talent.
Plus, due to the characteristics of the economical and social patterns in the country, baseball is seen by the youth as a way of improving their livelihood and for working their way to a better future.
Some well-known players at the MLB level will be part of this team participating in Tokyo, that’s the case of veteran outfielder Jose Bautista, who had 344 HR, a .366 wOBA, and a 126 wRC+ accompanying his .247/.361/.475 slash line during his 15-season big-league career.
Although he stopped playing in MLB in 2018, Bautista is a well-regarded slugger who can provide power and leadership to the team.
But one of the most sought-after players in the team is actually a rookie, Julio Rodriguez. The young right-handed outfielder belongs to the Seattle Mariners organization and is in the top five of most prospects lists you will find
Rodriguez has been part of most of the classification process for his team and will be a must-see candidate during the Olympics.
Last, but undoubtedly not least, DR will have in their roster one of the most admired local players and owner of the HR record for all stages of Lidom (more than 100), the left-handed first baseman Juan Francisco.
Francisco is famous for his power and the length of his homers, and will provide an additional opportunity for the spectacle as he can do things like this:
A superb smasher and a personal favorite.
The complete roster is in the following chart:
Notable Players Missing: MLB limited its Olympic participation by prohibiting players on their team’s 40-man roster from joining their country in competition. This rule affected a big quantity of players, currently in the middle of the MLB season.
Probably the biggest missing players for Team DR will be superstars Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Juan Soto, and Freddy Peralta; those four players could make any team a serious contender against any other team in the world.
Of course, they would also love to have any other of the before-mentioned names, as all of them would improve the chances for Team DR.
Nevertheless, Dominican Republic is always a serious contender in any baseball tournament they participate in, so we don’t expect less than a good role on this occasion.
On Friday, Nicole Cahill will preview Team USA. It’ll be available in English and in Spanish.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns)