A few weeks ago, I had a random opportunity: Travel through the Dominican Republic to see every baseball stadium with a man named Koco Loco. The story of how I met him can be found in a previous article I wrote for this site in which Koco brought me to a place called "El Pley," where the White Sox have built a youth complex as a gift to the people of Verón. The trip ended with us riding three on a moped to retrieve my wallet which I stupidly left on the bus. But you can read about that there. And also see the highlight of the trip, the Cubs Academia de Beisbol, which I separated out from day one of our adventure.
This epic baseball trip happened per Koco Loco's suggestion: Travel around the Dominican in a rental car and visit every single professional baseball stadium in the country, plus a few other baseball related places. The whole journey would take less than two days and we'd log nearly 1000 km. Not being able to afford such a trip, I asked BCB readers for funding and through your generosity, it happened! The $300 I was able to raise covered my rental car, and money for Koco Loco and his "ailing wife." I covered gas, food, bribes and lodging. Thank you all for your generosity. I could not, and would not, have done this trip without you.
Unfortunately, this article will remain somewhat incomplete. A disaster occurred when standing up to watch a cat fight (literally cats) in the alley below my apartment window. The crappy plastic picnic table I was editing photos on completely collapsed, sending my computer and external hard drive flying into a pool of spilled beer. Thank you all for your suggestions on how to get it fixed. I ended up bringing the drive to a repair shop, but I just got word that the data is only five percent recoverable, so the photos of my $10 motel room and videos of Koco Loco drunkenly singing are gone forever, in addition to a year and a half of baseball traveling. Basically, everything I shot with my iPhone. Luckily, I was smart enough to not delete the photos of my Nikon camera, so at the very least, the majority of this trip was saved. It sucks, but whatchoo gonna do?
Now, El Viaje (The Trip)!
On Friday, February 13, I hitched a $10 moped ride from a local hustler named Franklin to the car rental place located a few miles away. Having lived in a Dominican neighborhood in New York City, and knowing the lawless driving habits of the locals, where stop lights are merely suggestions, I took the full insurance, doubling the price of the car. I drove back to the beach front store where I had agreed to meet Koco Loco a few days earlier, only to find it gated shut. A rasta looking dude recognized me from hanging around earlier in the week and said Koco didn't work today, and that the store was closed. Rasta man was wrong! I went around to the beach side of the store and there was Koco and his boss Primo (cousin) sitting and waiting for me.
Koco was incredibly happy I had actually come, as he figured I was a "no show." He grabbed a plastic bag which, from what I could tell contained a bottle of Mamajuana, which is a mixture of rum, red wine, herbs, and honey that is supposed to act as a cure-all aphrodisiac, and a spare T-shirt. Although, I never did see the T-shirt.
He hopped into our rented Kia Picanto, took a swig off the Mamajuana bottle and screamed "Vamonos!" "Let's go!") -- and pounded the dashboard excitedly with his fists.
Off we went, with Koco Loco encouraging me to drive 25 miles per hour over the speed limit in order to make all the stadiums he had planned for us to visit by nightfall Saturday. We quickly traversed over the surprisingly well maintained highways that were built within the last five years. It used to take eight hours to travel to Santo Domingo from Punta Cana, but now it only takes three hours. The next time you're driving around Chicago and hit a giant pothole and say, "Man! This place is like a third world country!" You're wrong (at least when it comes to the Dominican Republic). Many of their roads are far better than ours.
I was well trained driving wise by NYC for this adventure. Every time, I'd speed through a stoplight, narrowly avoiding death, Koco would drunkenly yell, "Dominican!" It was a ton of fun, and really the only way I like to drive.
I'm going to let the photos and captions speak for themselves, but I will tell you that Koco Loco and I had an amazing time together. He not only managed to plan the perfect baseball stadium trip, but his rum loosened tongue sweet talked us into every single professional stadium in the country. A few times, we had to lay a couple bucks on the guard to let us in, but it was never a problem to gain entry. He also taught me more Spanish than I learned in two years of high school.
The photographs of day one include a youth baseball complex in Consuelo; the stadiums of Los Toros (The Bulls) in La Romana; Las Estrellas (The Stars) en Santo Domingo Este (East Santo Domingo); a shared stadium in Santo Domingo where both Escogido (Selected/Chosen) and Tigres del Licey (Tigers of Licey); and Estadio Cibao de Los Aguilas (the Eagles) in Santiago. Having arrived after hours at the final stadium, Koco Loco insisted we revisit the stadium de Los Aguilas again so I could photograph the field, even though the security guard let us in at night.
We also visited the Cubs Training Complex on day one, just to give you an idea of how whirlwind this tour really was.
Just to follow up on a Koco Loco story line from the previous article, a few hours into the trip, I realized Koco had not mentioned his wife at all. I asked, "How's your wife?" He tersely said, "She's better," and went silent. I left it there. Parse what you will from that exchange, but it is a regular part of the hustle in the Dominican Republic to say "my three kids are starving," or "my mother's sick" in order to eek a little more dough out of you. But Koco Loco did such an amazing job with this trip, I don't even care if I was also lied to.
We ended day one in Koco Loco's hometown of Alta Mira at a $10 motel, and had a few drinks at a local bodega before turning in for the night. We drank and sang and talked music and baseball. It was a nice end to a long day. I wish I could show you but alas, failed technology. If you like latin music, this is what we sang while I drank a Presidente beer in the same amount of time Koco finished his second bottle of rum. "La Vaca"... one of my favorites...
Finally, when you're finished looking at the photos of the stadiums and youth baseball complexes, you can listen to what I woke up to at 4:30 a.m. in Saturday morning after a restless, chilly night, sleeping on top of the covers for fear of contracting scabies. The four or five roosters crowing were much louder in person.
To Be Continued....