Costa Rica: Where Baseball Dreams Are Literally Made

By William Coppola 

On a recent visit to Costa Rica unrelated to baseball, I was impressed by the beauty of this tiny country between Nicaragua and Panama. The weather was amazing with 75 degree days and zero humidity. The people were very friendly and were eager to help me in any way they could. The food was incredible and service four stars.

While at dinner one night at a very good Italian restaurant by the name of Andiamo La, our server found out that our party was involved in baseball and told us that there was a baseball workout at “The Stadium” in San Jose the next night. After five days in this country, we had only seen soccer or basketball on every TV in restaurants and sports bars, so it was interesting that a baseball stadium actually existed in Costa Rica.

This is a country that is in love with soccer. We saw kids in school yards playing it everywhere on macadams laid out for soccer with goals. Not a baseball field to be found and now we were being told that there was a stadium? So off we went through the pothole filled streets of San Jose on a wild ride in traffic that had little rules.

When we arrived at the stadium, we were greeted by a few friendly people who showed us the entrance to Baseball Stadium Antonio Escarré. Built in 1955 it is a reminder of older minor league ballparks in the USA. I looked out at a beautifully manicured field, colored in the rich dark clay and green grass that reminded me of a professional baseball field here in America. I could see that the people here this night were very proud of this place and were eager to find out what we were there to see.

As I watched the workout of about 4 different teams of amateurs in age from 14 to 18 years old, I was amazed at how skilled they were at a sport not common to their land. Two of the coaches, Cesar Martínez and Visquel Gonzalez, are both from the Dominican Republic so it was obvious that these kids were being taught by very good baseball people.

The workouts were so well done and every kid was given individual attention. These two coaches could have a job in any major league organization.

And now, here is where it got interesting: it seems that there is a big population of Nicaraguans in the city. They love baseball and have kept it alive here in Costa Rica, a land known for Coffee and tropical fruit. Then, I was reminded by one of the parents of a player that every baseball used in the major leagues is made in Turrialba, Costa Rica.

Yes, in a land that is not known for producing U.S. major league quality baseball players, the most important piece of the great American pastime game comes from this place. Three hundred workers at the Rawlings factory in Turrialba produce an average of 600 baseballs a week per worker for an astounding 2.3 million baseballs for Major League Baseball every year. There the balls are all hand-stitched in a rhythmic sea of hands moving in sync like oarsmen in a crew race on Boston’s Charles River.

What a great find for me and my group. We were not here to look at a player or anything baseball-related and found gold. Last year the Houston Astros signed 19 year old right handed pitching prospect Bryan Solano who is 100% Costa Rican to a minor league contract.

The chances of making it to the big leagues as a native from this country are slim but the fact that they love this game and work so hard to achieve their dreams is something I find inspirational.

William Coppola is a contributing writer for the Bronx Chronicle with 40 years of involvement in the game of baseball as a player, coach, umpire and advanced scout.

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