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Thoughts on “Baseball in the Dominican Republic: Jean Segura”

After last night’s Brewers/Pirates game, Fox Sports Wisconsin aired the first of three “Baseball in the Dominican Republic” specials that will focus on current – and perhaps future – Brewers.  I hadn’t read this story of the series’ origin until after the first episode aired.  It sounds like a fascinating project:

The plan was to get in, shoot some video and get out of Carlos Gomez’s old grade school before the All-Star Brewers outfielder was recognized.

The plan quickly fell apart, and the resulting mayhem was the highlight of one reporter’s two-week journey to the baseball-crazed Dominican Republic.

“We call baseball America’s pastime, but I don’t know,” Sophia Minnaert said, “Baseball in the Dominican is at a whole different level.”

In a joint venture between FOX Sports Wisconsin, which televises Brewers games, and FOX Sports North, which covers the Twins, Minnaert traveled throughout the Dominican in November with coordinating producer Trevor Fleck and camera operators Ralph Gasow and Dan Truebenbach, compiling more than 50 hours of video currently being converted into six half-hour specials and a series of shorter features that will air in the coming months.

This series preview also builds the intrigue, particularly Carlos Gomez trying to hold back tears (at about 3:03 of the video) when he recalls leaving his homeland as a teenager to live in a foreign country.  My expectations sufficiently heightened – and feeling more than a little giddy after the Brewers’ seventh win in a row – I was eager to watch the first episode, “Baseball in the Dominican Republic: Jean Segura.”

It’s typical documentary in many ways, following the timeline of Segura’s rise through the Angels’ system, the trade to Milwaukee, and his All Star Game appearance.  Not surprisingly, the most impactful segments are Segura showing Minnaert and crew around the modest home he grew up in, talking about his upbringing, and the interviews with his family.  For instance, Segura’s maternal grandmother was a small businesswoman who made money by selling candy, which her kids – and later her grandson – helped make in the tiny backyard of the house she’s lived in all her life.

Segura’s father Carlos was apparently a baseball player, although it’s not clear at what level.  In his first segment, I thought I detected a hint of bravado when he said, “I was a baseball player, too, and a good baseball player.  My son got that part from his father.”  Later, however, when Carlos gets choked up talking about Jean giving his $70,000 signing bonus to his parents, he seems unpretentious and proud of his son.  (I got a little choked up myself at that point.)

Interviews with his mother and paternal grandmother also make the point that Segura was determined to be a professional baseball player from an early age.  When we find out Segura quit school at 15 years old to devote himself to baseball full time, it’s easy to admire his tenacity – but it’s hard not to think about all the other young men who have similar dreams that go unfulfilled.  For every Jean Segura (or Carlos Gomez, or Pedro Florimon), one wonders how many Dominican kids quit school to become baseball players, but ultimately never escape poverty.

For its part, “Baseball in the Dominican Republic: Jean Segura” chooses not to dwell on that question.  The episode doesn’t ignore the poverty Segura and his family/peers still deal with, but ultimately it’s a heartwarming rags-to-riches story – the protagonist succeeds against nearly impossible odds based on his work ethic, character, and grit.  I can imagine a less enjoyable, “alternate universe” version of this episode that tries to make the viewer pity Segura and his family for their underprivileged circumstances.  As it is, the show depicts them as ordinary folks trying to make a living, who are understandably proud of their son’s success.  That pride apparently extends to the whole province – Carlos’ story about how everyone he knew voted the maximum 25 times to help get Segura to the All Star Game made me smile.

Of course, the purpose of this series is not solely to share uplifting stories – it’s also meant to promote the Brewers’ baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.  That episode is scheduled to debut in June, after Carlos Gomez’ episode next month.  If “Baseball in the Dominican Republic: Jean Segura” is any indication, the next two episodes will be worth watching – not just as positive PR for the Brewers, but also because they portray disadvantaged people with dignity and optimism.

(Image: MLB.com)