Contreras’ family arrives in Florida on 21 person boat from Cuba

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What a remarkable story about the reunion of New York pitcher Jose Contreras with his family after they successfully escaped from Cuba on a 31 foot boat on Monday.  Among those who arrived were Contreras’ wife and 11 and 3 year old daughters.  What an incredible distraction the plight of his family must have been over the past 21 months for Contreras, and what an extreme example of desperation on the part of his family to attempt the trip.  Contreras arriving in a black stretch SUV limousine is quite a contrast to the thought of 21 people crammed into a 31 foot boat with an uncertain future.

Deeper statistics

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Watching /listening to tonight’s Red Sox – Dodgers game at Fenway Park tonight (well, I wasn’t actually at Fenway, but alternating between watching it on TV and listening to it on WEEI) and hearing a remark by a commentator about the matchup between Dodgers pitcher Odalis Perez and Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, both Dominican, I started thinking about all the history between batter and hitter, or any player and any other player, from levels below the Major Leagues.  Surely Perez and Ortiz had either faced each other in the Dominican Leagues or played together at some point in their past. Likewise, the memory and experience of many major leaguers of others they face (not to vouch for all) certainly extends into minor league, collegiate, school and sandlot ball.  We all remember many things about people we knew at earlier points in our lives, and it is often extremely difficult to divorce those impressions, experiences and feelings from current happenings.


Thus begins a disconnect between the official statistics of Major League Baseball and the real life experience of the players who are being documented.  Sure, for official statistical reasons there is a big difference between what happens at the Major League level and what happens in the neighborhood field at age 13, but to baseball players, what they have always been doing their entire lives is play baseball, and the CV of accomplishments flows well past those of most other professions.  For players with a long history of playing with/against one another or at least knowing each other (witness the recent often-remarked commentary about Nomar Garciaparra and Jay Payton’s friendship from Georgia Tech, or the ridiculously derided) , that time that some guy took another guy deep back in 8th grade in a summer league actually means something to both players. 


While it is easier to document the US players’ histories (by identifying where they went to school, as well as the better recordkeeping), it becomes more difficult and more vague to figure out how the foreign players fit in together. 


In any case, we often have no idea about the relationship between players on the field and how they relate to one another. This certainly isn’t something that is captured by statistics.  Memory and emotion are still-elusive qualities of sports but affect much on the field or the court.  But the official story and statistics of sports, much like the official story and statistics of many other things in the world, don’t paint the whole picture.

Creating civic community around thought leaders in Boston

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Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending the IDEAS Boston conference, sponsored by the Boston Globe.  It was a truly refreshing and thought-provoking event — not the usual kind of dull panel-dominated humdrum conference that seems too much the norm these days.  It was like a great meal of tasty tapas — with only 20 minutes alloted to each speaker, and topics ranging from nanotechnology to sculpture to the woes in Sudan, the audience spent two days captivated by idea after idea.  Kudos to my colleague John Palfrey from the Berkman Center for stirring things up with his own presentation of “things that he worries about” from the point of view of an attorney and Internet expert.  This includes the growing apathy of younger generations in the US, and the potential for using technology to capture their attention.


The Boston Globe deserves a lot of credit for being brave enough to carve out a space for public discourse about cutting edge ideas from around the Boston area.  This is an area that is usually the domain of universities or foundations, but somehow these latter groups aren’t as good as also pulling off events with good content that also have some marketing slickness and good packaging.  In this case the Globe did a great job of creating an atmosphere of open dialogue and coolness out of which a dominating spirit of humanitarianism and concern for others emerged.  Hopefully there will be more of these in the future.

The creaky adaptation of international development to technological change

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Thanks to a recent post by Tomas Krag, one of the most creative, inventive and intense people I have met in the ICT for Development space, I stumbled across the “i4d: information for development” site, whose masthead and contributors’ list name a number of people I either know or respect.  Tomas’ and Sebastian
Biittrich’s (who in the past have cheerfully and willingly been
invaluable resources,
along with Michael Best, for me in clarifying the capabilities of
diffent wireless technologies and in offering blunt criticism)
involvement makes me believe that this journalistic endeavor merits
further attention. 

What Michael Best, Tomas and Sebastian (and many others too many to
mention here) bring to the international development
community is something that lamentably is still underappreciated even
today, which is deep and serious knowledge of how technologies
(wireless, computational, community-oriented and other) work. 
After a number of years of serious consideration of how IT
can transform development, the field still remains dominated by
bureaucrats, well-meaning economists and others who really do not
understand the technology, and
who hold at arm’s length a lot of very talented individuals with very
advanced technology skills who are looking for ways to help the
world. 

The esprit de corps of a global brigade of geeks has been institutionalized and scrappily pushed forth by my colleague Ethan Zuckerman,
but unfortunately, international development as a profession remains a dinosaur with little room for true entrepreneurship and
risk-taking with the exploration of new technologies.  In a
limited way, the field continues to creakily adapt to the realities of
technological change, but unfortunately, the structure and culture of
the global aid institutions are anathema to the acceptance of
fast-moving, technological saavy crusaders.

There remains a lot of room in the international development space for
a major institution to emerge to lead with money, creativity,
technological savviness and connections that will sweep clean much of
the aged detritus of bureaucracy and inertia that dominate what should
be the most important and impacting sector in the world.

Byung-Hyun Kim and “You Gotta Have Wa”

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As I listened to Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager Joe Garagiola Jr. being interviewed on sports radio this morning (mostly in relation to Randy Johnson pitching a perfect game last night), and the topic turned to Korean pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim, currently with the Boston Red sox, I was reminded of Robert Whiting’s 1990 classic book on Japanese baseball, You Gotta Have Wa.


Garagiola was outlining one of the Diamondbacks’ biggest grievances while Kim was with them — his intense workout regime that some observers have called “insane,” and most agree is over-the-top.  Certainly the Red Sox seem to share this latter view of Kim’s habits of late night sprints in the outfield at Fenway long after the rest of the team has left, constant throwing and a devotion to repetition and overwork that leaves most observers with their heads shaking.


While Kim is Korean, not Japanese, there are certainly echoes of You Gotta Have Wa in Kim’s approach.  In particular, the insistence of Japanese pitchers to throw upwards of 200 pitches a day on their off-days and the repetitive 1,000 fungo workouts point to a similar philosophy of training in terms of excess and repetition.


In You Gotta Have Wa, Whiting, a journalist living in Japan, discusses many of the nuances, and what US readers (and baseball players) would view to be eccentricities, of Japanese baseball.  Along the way, Whiting exposes a lot of insights into Japanese society as well.  It is a great read with some passages that I recall made me laugh out loud.


As big as the culture clash may be for non-US players to come to the US to play professional baseball, by all acounts this experience pales in comparison with the culture clash of non-Japanese who play in Japan.  Deviation from the Japanese concept of team, and always putting the greater good of the team before oneself, along with the total lack of understanding of teammates’, fans’ and society’s expectations, is natural with the utter lack of exposure that US and Latin American players have of Japanese baseball before arriving there (unlike the Japanese conception of American baseball, because there is much more US baseball shown in Japan).  The intense media scrutiny in Japan overwhelms most US players who have played there.  Even the rabid Boston baseball media cannot hold a candle to the tenacity, viciousness and no-holds-barred style of their Japanese counterparts.  In the US we have seen the spillover of the Japanese media effect with the packs of Japanese reporters who swarm around Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Kaz Matsui, but this media frenzy is only an offshoot of what is an extreme devotion to their players and teams by Japanese baseball fans.


Whether Byung-Hyun Kim is going through big time culture shock, has lost his velocity due to overwork, is a real loner who shrugs off the overtures of his colleagues, hasn’t shaken his infamous showing in the 2001 World Series, or is just having a bad season, isn’t clear, but in terms of difficult transitions and eye-popping differences in basic philosophies of how to play the game, there is a yawning chasm between Asian and US baseball, and Kim is caught right smack in the middle of it.  You Gotta Have Wa is a great introduction to some of these differences.

Mariano Rivera, computers and kids in Panama: a winning combination

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Tonight is the official inauguration of the opening of two Computer Clubhouses in Panama, with the support of Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees and the Intel Corporation.  The Sports for Development Foundation worked over the last two years to help make this happen, so I am very pleased to finally see the Clubhouses open and to know that the official festivities are happening tonight.  The official press release gives some more details about the program, Mariano’s involvement, and the background of Intel’s support. 


I am most excited by the nature of this collaboration — bringing a major sports figure, a large IT multinational, and an established and reputable not-for-profit organization together to accomplish tangible, positive goals for youth.  I think this is a great model for other international development activities, and channels important synergies and complementary skills and core competencies to bear on the pressing problem of the lack of opportunity for most Panamanian kids.  The truly unique and special part of this collaboration, however, has been Mariano Rivera.  It would not have been possible without Mariano’s tremendous dedication to helping others, his desire to give back to his country, and of course his unbridled enthusiasm and focus.

The Dominican vote — a sign that global change is in the air?

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One of the most interesting aspects of this past Sunday’s elections in the Dominican Republic was that for the first time, Dominicans living abroad could vote at local polling stations outside their country.  In Providence, New York, Boston and elsewhere, Dominicans who live outside their country could cast their votes for their preferred candidate for president.  While this may be nothing new to many other citizens of other countries, it is noteworthy in a country that still feels the legacy of Trujillo’s dictatorship.  And given the distrust of most Dominicans of the potential for corruption, which therefore voids the solution for extraterritorial voting that other countries have adopted through their consulates, the adoption of measures to incorporate the electoral wishes of the expatriate Dominican population is no small feat.


After 9 percent of the votes were counted, here are the results from 11 different polling stations outside the country, courtesy of DR1:


Boston (3,491 valid votes): 77.4% PLD, 19.6% PRD, 2.8% PRSC.
Miami (1,745 valid votes): 74.4% PLD, 21.5% PRD, 3.7% PRSC.
New Jersey (4,439 valid votes): 74% PLD, 22.3% PRD, 3.3% PRSC.
New York (12,101 valid votes): 73.7% PLD, 21.4% PRD, 4.4% PRSC.
Orlando (190 valid votes): 73.7% PLD, 23.7% PRD, 2.63% PRSC.
Tampa (203 valid votes): 68.47% PLD, 26.11% PRD, 4.43% PRSC.
Puerto Rico (3,225 valid votes): 79.9% PLD, 17.5% PRD, 2.4% PRSC.
Barcelona (1,329 valid votes): 73% PLD, 17.4% PRD, 6.6% PRSC.
Madrid (2,913 valid votes): 77.7% PLD, 15.1% PRD, 5% PRSC.
Montreal (303 valid votes); 71.62% PLD, 27.72% PRD, 0.66% PRSC.
Venezuela (369 valid votes): 66.94% PLD, 31.71% PRD, 1.36% PRSC.


At first blush, this certainly seems to indicate that expatriate Dominicans support the incoming President, Leonel Fern

Leonel Wins! Regime change in the Dominican Republic

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Yesterday’s presidential election in the Dominican Republic has led to the election of former President Leonel Fern

Mondesi’s legal issues in DR may create ripple effect

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I’ll bet there is a lot of nervousness among Dominican baseball players this week after Raul Mondesi was placed on the restricted list by the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is a result of a lawsuit by former major leaguer, and current buscon (Dominican rogue/official/unofficial, depending on the situation, talent scout) Mario Guerrero, who alleged that he is owed around $640,000 by Mondesi because of a verbal agreement made years ago that Mondesi would give Guerrero a certain percentage of his total earnings because of training that Guerrero gave him. When this was backed up by witnesses, a Dominican court ruled in favor of Guerrero. Subsequent to this, Mondesi’s bank accounts were frozen in the Dominican Republic and the Pirates ended up witholding his pay.

Most, if not all, players coming from the Dominican Republic were originally “discovered” by some kind of buscon. These may have been family members, neighbors, friends of friends, total strangers, or a more or less more formal scout linked to a major league team. It really runs the gamut. While many buscones are legitimate, responsible people, there are also some buscones who are pretty sketchy. From my understanding, from accounts from people who have known Mario Guerrero in his buscon phase of his career (including at least one former State Department official who used to deal with Mario Guerrero on visa issues for his players…), Mr. Guerrero is a pretty shady character.

Who knows what the truth is at the bottom of this mess — it is unclear what the relationship between the Dominican court decision and the Pirates’ actions is, the legitimacy of the court ruling (in a country where the rule of law is questionable and the court systems are consistently under serious pressure to clean up their act), and certainly what the details are of the court case that started this.

But what is not in doubt is the almost lawless, frontier aspect of scouting in the Dominican Republic, that leads to the “discovery” of many of MLB’s biggest stars.

As Dominican (and other Latin) players begin to search their memories for any promises made, or to consider the potential for claims against them from people in their past, and move what money remains in Dominican banks (which after last year’s banking crisis can’t be many — what was Mondesi thinking?) to the US or elsewhere, the big question is what the potential for “copycat” or real claims against them might be. No one got where he is today without doling out plenty of favors to plenty of people.

Many of the people who really deserve it already have received or continue to receive the financial and prestige benefit from the stars who made it, in the complex network of patronage that surrounds most Dominican players. But what about those who feel they have been left out, or maybe have purposely have been left out for whatever reason?

Just like the crazy litigation in the US (think about the multi-million dollar case with McDonalds and the spilled coffee…) over many issues, there is real potential for a wave of similar litigation breaking out in the DR alleging all sorts of monies owed for services rendered. The impact on Dominican players, in terms of time and money, could be tremendous. And it could also force MLB’s hand in making some order and sense of the buscon system.

This is just one more thing to distinguish how the Latin players are different from most US players in the big leagues. In many cases, the Dominican and other players have come from places of such poverty and with so few opportunities that it is beyond the realm of understanding of most US players and certainly the majority of US fans of MLB. To get where they are, these players had to really persevere and fight to get where they are.

At one stage, the buscon was a tremendous help in getting them here. Now it could be that we are entering a new stage in which these players, rightly or wrongly (it really is hard to know in the Mondesi case without knowing the details), are going to have to pay back their debts back more publicly and more broadly. It could get ugly for a lot of players.

Manny Ramirez and the Dominican Diaspora

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Congratulations are certainly due to Boston Red Sox left-fielder Manny Ramirez, who missed tonight’s game against the Cleveland Indians to attend his naturalization ceremony in Florida. Manny first moved to New York City in 1985, when he was 13 years old, and now makes his primary residence in Boston with his wife.

Manny is perhaps one of the most high-profile examples of Dominicans who are naturalized U.S. citizens or who are U.S. citizens of Dominican descent. But confusion reigns among many people, even the most astute of US baseball fans, of who is and who isn’t an American versus a Dominican or Mexican or Panamanian. The strangest, and saddest, confusion is over the Puerto Ricans in baseball, reflecting the tumultous and unresolved nature of the relationship of the United States with its most important territory. Perhaps confusion is perhaps to be expected in this era of blurred nationality, ethnic background and complex national allegiance, where stars such as Vin Diesel have been lauded and highlighted for breaking down ideas of fixed ethnicity, and sports stars like Alex Rodriguez ease in and out fluidly in both latino and anglo cultures.

But in the end, who cares about these things?

In the case of the Dominican Republic the nationality line certainly blurs. After all, former (and hopefully future, as of May 17) President Leonel Fernandez holds a green card after attending high school and living in New York City for a number a years. Dr. Fernandez has actively (and rightly) promoted increased ties among Dominicans and Dominican-Americans as a positive economic development strategy for his country.

The number of Dominicans in the northeast corridor of the United States is certainly impressive: over 600,000 Dominicans in New York, over 250,000 in northern New Jersey, over 40,000 in Lawrence, MA and over 40,000 in Providence, RI.

When well over 10% of a country’s total population actually lives in another country, as is the case of the Dominican Republic, interesting and challenging issues certainly arise.

Without really realizing it still, Major League Baseball has become a major vanguard of cultural, economic and social integration that the world is facing across a number of nationalities, races and sports. It is a pattern that is paradoxical in what generally is fans’ acceptance of a player regardless of race or ethnicity, but which still creates reactions, especially within the sport itself, of racism, bigotry and unfair judgement. That is one of the strange things about sports globally — many times it is the way that the general populace becomes exposed to other cultures, accepts them unthinkingly, yet later grapples with the implications.