This is the final installment in a continuing saga. If you haven't seen the other "Sordid Travels" yet. Here's Part 1, my random meeting and subsequent first baseball travel with Koco Loco. In Part 2, we sweet-talked our way into the Cubs Dominican training facility. Then in Part 3 we traveled throughout the Dominican Republic, seeing as many stadiums and training facilities as we could fit into the day. This is the last installment... I guess Koco Loco texted me as recently as yesterday. I have a feeling we might have more baseball touring up our collective sleeves.
Thank you again to all BCB readers who donated to the GoFundMe that paid for Koco's time and our rental car. I couldn't have done it without you!
Another note: My hard drive is toast. So, unfortunately, gone are so many amazingly entertaining pics and videos of Koco Loco taken with my iPhone. Example: Singing "La Vaca" in his hometown bar in Alta Mira and driving through the Dominican countryside. I guess you're just going to have to hear about it this year in person at a Cubs game. Just find me and ask me. I love talking.
I woke up that Saturday Valentines Day morning, if you can call 4 a.m. "morning," to the sound of five roosters crowing. My girlfriend's mother pointed out later that you only need one rooster, but Koco Loco's hometown of Alta Mira, where we stayed in a $10 a night rooming house, had at least five. Between the roosters and my fear of scabies and bed bugs, I lay there listening to a Canadian podcast, which usually bores me to sleep, until the sun started to rise and I finally crashed out again. After a short early morning nap, I was then awakened by Koco Loco's aggressive knock on my door. "Danny! Vamonos!" ("Let's go!") We only had a couple more stadiums to visit, so I didn't see what the big hurry was to bolt out the door at 7 a.m. But I was soon to find out.
I didn't know what to do bathing-wise with the bucket of cloudy water left for me in the non-functioning "shower," so I just threw on clothes and left. Hey! What do you expect for 10 bucks?! I snapped a few shots on the way to the car, shook hands with the cop I had bribed the night before to watch our rental car, and then followed Koco's directions up into the hills. El Campo. The country. (Figuratively speaking, of course.)
Little did I know! I was about to meet Familia Loco. If you've ever had to visit with extended family, you know it can be a tedious task at times. But Koco Loco has it down to a science. I met his aunts, cousins, uncles, goats, chickens, cats and family dogs in a total of about an hour and he made them each feel as if they were the most important person in the entire world -- for five minutes each. His family is probably still talking about last month when Koco visited with El Blanco (me). Not only is Koco a great baseball tour guide, but he can teach us all a thing or two about maximizing your time with relatives you don't want to talk to, by not allowing small talk. In the hour we visited, Koco found out that a family member had died, we drank two strong cups of coffee, and heard mountain music from his family's band. I also saw the overgrown lot where Koco was born, complete with avocado and orange trees, and of course, lots of chickens. Alta Mira is a beautiful and fertile place with very few modern amenities and a lot of seemingly happy people.
At this point in the story, I had suspected we were in the out of the way pueblo of Alta Mira only so Koco Loco could visit his family on the dime of the BCB readers and me, who had funded this sojourn, but it also happens to be the hometown of Bartolo Colon, who has built a magnificent youth baseball complex in the town. Bartolo also seems to run the place. Every hardware store, gas station, and car wash was run by one of Mr. Colon's family members. Alta Mira is awash in Bartolo's baseball money. Even the town's firetruck is emblazoned with his name (photo 8)!
Estadio Bartolo Colon is a baseball complex any kid would be lucky to play in, rivaling many minor league parks I've visited. If baseball is changing the Dominican Republic, Bartolo Colon has been instrumental in at least changing Alta Mira. The DR might have started as a colony, but it will end up a Colon.
Estadio Bartolo Colon houses his collection of luxury cars, numerous signed jerseys from many famous ball players, and a baseball diamond in which kids would die to play. He even feeds the players with an onsite outdoor kitchen where caged chickens await their final destiny of feeding a hungry young ball player.
After visiting Bartolo Colon's stadium, it was off to Estadio Cibao de los Aguilas. We had visited the night before, but Koco insisted I shoot it in the daytime. We did. (See the photos for more!)
We then drove our longest distance to Estadio Julian Javier, named after a ballplayer who played for the Cardinals and Reds from 1960-72. We drank sugar cane juice, bought cornbread cakes on the street from our car, and listened to Koco Loco's family band all the way to the stadium, which is inhabited by Los Gigantes (The Giants). We bribed our way in with a few bucks and visited the last of our six-stadium tour.
In just over 24 hours, we had seen and photographed every professional stadium in the Dominican (one of them twice), the Cubs training camp, the youth training complexes donated my Manny Acta, and visited Koco Loco's family. All while having a heck of a time speaking Spanglish, listening to music, and drinking bottles and bottles of rum. Well, not me, Koco Loco did the drinking. I didn't, since I had to drive.
Despite our collective exhaustion, on the way back Koco insisted we tour Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo. I'm not a big Columbus fan, and neither is he, yet, it's the most touristy thing one can do in the Dominican Republic. So we went. I'm still not a Columbus fan. In fact, after seeing the jails in which he drowned prisoners through rainfall and the natural grade of the land just outside his mansion, I would say he might be one of the worst people ever. Good thing I was with one of the best people ever to make it all palatable and interesting. Koco Loco.
The drive back to Punta Cana was long. Koco was punch drunk tired and it rained. We white knuckled it through a few hours of a Dominican downpour which finally gave way to the largest double rainbow I've ever seen. Koco Loco insisted we play his family band's music at ear-splitting levels while he screamed out every song while I tried my best to keep up with the lawless speedy traffic patterns. I had some great videos of it all, but alas, I heard two cats fighting in the alley while editing photographs, stood up, and the crappy table I was writing on collapsed sending my hard drive into oblivion. At least I had not erased the pictures on my camera, otherwise the whole trip would have been lost, at least as far as sharing it with all of you.
Not certain how to end this article except to say, if you're ever in Punta Cana, Bavaro specifically, you should go find Koco Loco. Unfortunately, walking up and down the beach asking for Koco Loco will get you offers of alcoholic beverages, cocaine, and prostitutes, but eventually you will find him.
Koco Loco and I still keep in touch through What's App. He recently had an accident when the moped he was riding on collided with another. He went to Santo Domingo to recuperate and seems to be OK. I wasn't sure if it was a shakedown for more cash. It probably was. But I also like him enough as a person to give him the benefit of the doubt. As a self described hustler myself, I greatly respect his game. The only advice I can give you if you go see Koco Loco is define the terms of your verbal agreement and have a great time!