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 was 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 (football) 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 pot hole 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 four 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 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 MLB players, the most important piece of the game comes from this place. 300 workers at the Rawlings factory here produce an average of 600 baseballs a week per worker for an astounding 2.3 million baseballs for the major leagues every year. All stitched by hand in a rhythmic sea of what appears to be oarsmen in a crewing race on the Charles River in Boston.
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 a native 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.