MLB players, officials meet U.S. ambassador

Event in Dominican Republic promotes efforts to aid island

By Jesse Sanchez / | 02/01/12 12:18 AM EST

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Some of the biggest ambassadors of baseball met face-to-face with a real U.S. diplomat on Tuesday, and the results could pay dividends in the future for the island.
Raul H. Yzaguirre, the ambassador of the United States to the Dominican Republic, opened up the U.S. Embassy to honor Major League Baseball and its players. The event promoted the efforts of the Major League Baseball Dominican Development Alliance (MLB-DDA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to improve health, education and job development on the island.
Joining Yzaguirre on the dais at the U.S. Embassy were USAID director James Watson, director of Major League Baseball's Dominican Operations Rafael Perez and Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano.

Also in attendance were current Major League players Jose Bautista, Nelson Cruz, Hanley Ramirez, Alexi Ogando, Ubaldo Jimenez and Neftali Feliz. Legendary figures in Dominican baseball Manny Mota, George Bell, Mariano Duncan and Ozzie Virgil were also at the event.
"We are not trying to do things that just look good on paper or in pictures," Perez said. "We are trying to do something that really makes an impact. It's something we can do better, and it will be better at in the future."
Founded in November 2008, the MLB-DDA is an organization that works with the support of the U.S. government and various non-profit organizations to help Santo Domingo, in part by matching donations made by players, teams and fans for community outreach programs in players' hometowns and the communities surrounding academies in the Dominican Republic. The MLB-DDA matches every donation made by a player or group.
The MLB-DDA has already worked with several clubs, including the Cubs, Mets, Red Sox and Pirates. Former Major League pitcher Pedro Martinez (extracurricular education, art and computer programs), Mota (education and nutrition programs) and the MLB Players Trust (credit programs for women) have also participated in the MLB-DDA program.
"I think we are really fortunate to have a U.S. ambassador that really cares for the community the way we do and reaches out to us," Cruz said. "I think it's a great program and the perfect way for ballplayers like us to help out."
Tuesday night's event featured heartfelt speeches from Yzaguirre, Cano and Perez. A video was also shown that focused on the work of MLB-DDA/USAID on the island over the last two years, and the organizations' vision for a brighter future in the Dominican Republic.
"It's important that today's players continue to help out and remember where they come from," said Virgil, who in 1956 became the first Dominican-born player to play in the Major Leagues. "You have to appreciate the life you have and how you are living today. It's because of baseball and the opportunities it has provided. It's their responsibility to give back."