Fourteen of the 50 players on the field or in reserve were born outside of the United States, including Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, better known as “Big Papi” in his native Dominican Republic, and the Yankees’ Panamanian closer Mariano Rivera.
They are stars that represent the changing face of a game that once barred blacks but is now rapidly globalizing. From Australians to Venezuelans, a total of 234 foreigners – 27.7 percent of all players – graced opening day rosters this year, according to Major League Baseball statistics. The New York Yankees, with 16 foreign-born players, are the most international team in baseball.
It is the third most-international season in MLB history. In 2005, 29.2 percent of players were foreign-born, and the 2007 season saw 246 players were born outside the US.
Yet no country outside of the US sends as many players to professional baseball as the Dominican Republic, a country of just over 9 million where 10 percent of this year's big leaguers were born. Nearly half the foreigners playing for the Red Sox and Yankees hail from this Caribbean nation.
Baseball may be America’s pastime, but it's the Dominican Republic's obsession. President Leonel Fernandez attends groundbreakings for baseball training complexes as readily as 14-year-old boys don spikes and find an empty patch of grass with a ball and a glove in hopes of catching a scout's attention.
The country has sent so many players to Major League Baseball franchises – 468 to the major leagues and thousands more to the minors – that Dominicans consider playing professional baseball more of a career path than a dream.
"Dominicans are the best baseball players in the world," says José Guerrero, 15, as he stretches his arms in preparation for throwing drills in a public park in the capital, Santo Domingo. "If you work hard enough, you'll get a contract."
A contract, which for top prospects included a signing bonus worth an average of $180,000 last year, is a one-way ticket out of poverty. In a country with annual per capita GDP of $8,600, signing means moving from a rented shack to an owned home, from taking the bus to driving your own car.