Casa de Campo bills itself as enabler of The Sporting Life, and they deliver on that claim in myriad ways: golf, of course, but shooting, polo, tennis, yachting and several more I’m sure I’m missing. But there is baseball, too, and tonight we got a thoroughly entertaining taste.
La Romana, the city of 250,000 that is home to Casa de Campo, is home to Los Toros del Este of the Dominican League, a winter circuit comprised of the country’s many fine players and a few U.S.-based stars home for the Major League Baseball offseason. Thursday night we ventured out to Estadio Francisco A. Micheli to watch “The Bulls of the East” drop a 4-3 decision to visiting Estrellas Orientales, who hail from the noted baseball hotbed, San Pedro de Macoris.
MLB fans surely understand by now what a huge impact Dominican players have had on America’s national pastime. Indeed, as a Red Sox fan, I’m forever in debt to Dominican stars David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez for delivering two World Series in the last 8 years. But the Dominican league is something substantial in its own right, a brand of beisbol that must be experienced to be believed.
Yes, there are MLB stars on hand, though Los Toros’ Erick Aybar, who plays for the Angels, and Estrellas’ Felix Pie were the only two “big” leaguers on hand this night. Aybar didn’t even play actually, which is typical apparently. Sometimes these MLBers show up to games, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they show up and never leave the dugout. It’s all very loose down here, and the crowd whoops it up regardless — waving banners, dancing to the band ensconced in the loge section, chanting scatologically, and tittering as the PA announcer ogles hot chicks in the crowd.
“I want an American girl, and her little friend,” the crowd chanted in the third inning, commenting on U.S.-Dominican couples they spy in the crowd, assuming the Dominican guy is just angling for a green card.
After Los Toros pushed one across in the bottom of the third, the PA announcer broke into a low growl, and intoned, “Attention, attention: Section 5, black top, blue pants… How healthy the women are tonight!”
In the middle of the fourth, the Toros mascot (a bull, naturally), delivered one of the raunchiest dances you’ll ever see from a man in orange fur, and it sure beat the hell out of any between-innings dot race — or the execrable Sweet Caroline sing along. Until this year there had been cheerleaders at Estadio Micheli; they’d been banned because they weren’t particularly family oriented. “Basically they were strippers,” our local guide explained, and the players spent too much game time ogling them as they worked it atop the home dughout. There’s been a strong call for their reinstatement.
The baseball itself is quite good, certainly on par with AAA, but it’s the little twists on the game that make it worthwhile for a tourist. There are cashews, not peanuts on offer. The beer flows, of course (the ubiquitous Presidente Light — in special Toros orange cans), but also rum — in plastic bottles to mix with Coke. When they flash player stats on the big screen, there’s the recognizable AVG and HR figures, but RBI is replaced by “C.E.”, for Carreras Empujadas, or “pushed runs”.
The DR may have thrilled this summer when Félix Sánchez won gold at the London Olympics in the 400-meter hurdles, but this is a baseball country, first, foremost and always. When we pulled into the stadium parking lot, it was not yet full and dozens of kids were playing baseball on the hard top. For visitors to Casa de Campo, baseball is yet another sporting diversion. For the locals in La Romana and across the country, it’s the only real game in town.