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Dominican Dreams: Former Major Leaguers Help Their Home Country

Ramon Ortiz - Photo Credit: REUTERS/Mike Blake

Ramon Ortiz – Photo Credit: REUTERS/Mike Blake

Standing on the shore of the river that cuts through his hometown of Cotui, Dominican Republic, fishing lure in the water, Ramon Ortiz just wanted to catch dinner for his family. At twenty-two, he had long outgrown his baseball dreams and had turned to fishing simply to put food on the table.

“All of a sudden, a friend of mine comes out of nowhere and says “A scout is here to see you!” I threw down my fishing pole and sprinted.”

Sitting next to him, his cousin Pedro Liriano, a former big leaguer himself, nods his head and smiles at the story he has heard countless times over the years.

“Ramon’s story should be a movie.”

It didn’t take long for Ortiz to convince the scout that he could pitch.

“I only threw a few pitches and the scout signed me on the spot. I didn’t even know that any teams knew I existed, but I was so excited to be able to play baseball and help my family.”

If a movie were to be made about Ortiz’s career, it would culminate in Pacific Bell Park during Game 3 of the 2002 World Series. Playing on the road against the heavily favored Giants, the series tied, Ortiz took the mound and delivered a win for the Angels, pitching five gutsy innings against one of the highest-powered offenses in baseball. The end credits would roll as Ortiz and his teammates swarmed the field following the final out of Game 7 as World Champions.

But it would be far from the end of Ramon Ortiz’s baseball story, and the impact he has made on the game has been far greater than any World Series title.

“It was through Ramon that I was able to get scouts to look at me,” Pedro Liriano says about his own start in baseball. “Ramon always took me under his wing and when it was time for me to come to the States, he made sure to help me adjust.”

Adjustment to the United States can often be an incredible struggle for Latin American baseball players, often signed away from their families and homes as teenagers and forced into a new country, culture, and language with little support off the field.

“Luckily for me, I always had Ramon to lean on to help me adjust to the United States. When I was playing minor league ball in California, Ramon would come and pay me a visit, take me to dinner, and show me around.”

Following his baseball career, one that lasted twelve major league seasons, Ortiz returned to the Dominican Republic determined to continue to help young baseball players like he had Liriano.

“Coming back home after playing baseball really opened up my eyes to see that my people need help and that the Lord blessed me with a talent that would allow me to reach a lot of people.”

With Liriano’s help, Ortiz has established a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic that provides young ballplayers, many from impoverished backgrounds, the opportunity to pursue their baseball dreams. Together they founded the Ramon Ortiz and Pedro Liriano Foundation to raise the necessary funds to provide little league ballplayers in their country with adequate equipment, playing fields, and uniforms.

“We’ve both been blessed to see the world and experience things that many people only dream of. Helping the people in our country is an honor and the least we can do to give back. Our dream for the academy extends way beyond baseball. Our goal is to provide the people of our country with the ability to lead successful, self-sustaining lives, have proper health care and education, and a safe place to live.”

Ortiz and Liriano have chosen baseball as the vehicle through which to achieve their lofty goals for their home country for many reasons.

“Baseball is in our blood. It’s our entertainment, exercise, a way we all can connect. For some, it’s an opportunity to leave the country and then come back to help others.”

Even with Ortiz and Liriano backing it, their academy has many needs.  Quality equipment is hard to find in the Dominican, as are adequate playing fields. Isaias Franco, a teacher from Northern California, was moved by the Ortiz and Liriano Foundation’s mission and took it into his own hands to outfit Dominican little leaguers with equipment and uniforms. After collecting donated equipment for months, Franco traveled to the Dominican to distribute it in July.

“Currently, they’re in need of a lot of work,” he said upon his return to the United States. “There are cows wandering in the outfield, the grass is more like weeds, the ground itself is very bumpy, and there’s not a proper backstop.”

But after meeting Ortiz and Liriano and the young players at the academy, Franco is optimistic for the future of Dominican baseball.

“I thought their academy was such a beautiful concept. It’s not only baseball-centered. It’s community-centered.  Parents and families come out and are a part of the entire process, cheering on the kids and keeping the field in shape.

After donating hundreds of gloves, jerseys, bats, balls, and hats on his first visit, Franco has already begun planning a return trip to bring more equipment to Dominican little leaguers. In partnership with many stars from the island, including future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, he has also organized a baseball tour and fantasy camp during which fans will tour the country and play against many of the big league stars from the island to raise money to support future projects in the DR.

“As a life long baseball fan, giving back to those less fortunate is the least I can do after having received so much from baseball and life in general,” Franco says when asked about his inspiration for his charitable work in the Dominican.

Franco has many goals for Ortiz and Liriano’s academy and surrounding communities.

“My goals for the academy are initially to provide the community of Fantino with a program that educates children not only on baseball but how to lead physically and emotionally healthy lives through good sportsmanship and role models. Next, the goal is to impact the lives of all members of the community by providing medical relief, employment opportunities, and proper housing. From there, the goal is to replicate these community building opportunities across the Dominican.”

Pedro Liriano and Ramon Ortiz

Pedro Liriano and Ramon Ortiz

How you can help:
If you are interested in finding out how you can support Ramon and Pedro’s foundation and academy in the Dominican Republic, please contact Isaias Franco at Donations of baseball equipment are greatly appreciated as are monetary contributions through Pro Athletes With Jesus. Monetary contributions will be utilized to help build a baseball field for little leaguers in Fantino, DR. In partnership with Ramon and Pedro and other Dominican baseball stars like future HOFer Vladimir Guerrero, Isaias will be hosting a fantasy baseball camp in the Dominican Republic this December with proceeds being donated to support baseball projects in the DR.

Daniel is an avid fan of international baseball and is the author of two books on the subject, Beyond Baseball and Beyond Baseball: Rounding First. Both books are available at Proceeds from Rounding First will be used to support the non-profit Helping Kids Round First and their mission to bring Nicaraguan children opportunity through baseball.

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