When, for the first time ever, MLB last year tested top Dominican amateur prospects for drug use, 13 of 40 tested positive. The league plans to test Dominicans this year with the penalty of suspensions.
The results were startling, but they put the Dominican Republic at the forefront of attempts to combat drug use in the sport. As baseball season kicks off in the United States, MLB is concurrently launching efforts to crack down on drug use and educate amateurs regarding the health dangers that result from performance-enhancers such as steroids.
"The Dominican Republic is a special place for baseball and ... our leadership is dedicated to eliminating any abuses that occur there," says MLB spokesman Michael Teevan.
In part, this tiny Caribbean nation of 9 million people is being singled out because no country outside the US sends as many players to professional baseball. It may be America's pastime, but it's the Dominican Republic's obsession. President Leonel Fernandez attends groundbreakings for training complexes as readily as 14-year-old boys don cleats and gloves in hopes of catching a scout's attention. The nation supplied 10 percent of this year's big leaguers.
No other country also has such a poor reputation for drug abuse among players. While the percentage of Dominicans in MLB testing positive for drug use fell from 3.3 percent in 2008 to 2.1 percent last year, that's still markedly higher than the 0.82 percent rate across the league, according to statistics supplied to the Monitor.
To tackle the scourge, MLB has beefed up a Dominican-based investigations unit and held symposiums bringing together street agents – known here as – government officials, and baseball authorities to discuss ways to improve education and stop drug use. Locally televised games recently began carrying public-service spots urging players to avoid drugs.