Baseball, Sueños y Gloria
The República Dominicana is told through Sofía Torres Prida’s lens
“Over time I became more and more interested in the Dominican identity, my identity. I studied overseas, at the University of the Arts in Zurich, and once I returned home, I decided that I would try to study and narrate the culture of my country and its ramifications. That’s why I focused my attention mainly on baseball.”
Sofía Torres Prida is young, but aware. She is aware of Dominican culture’s ramifications and its cornerstones. She is aware of the personal desire to tell the story of a nation and its customs through her own lens. The Dominican Republic is baseball. Baseball is the Dominican Republic. This is the equation that Sofía linearly explains as she introduces ‘Sueños y Gloria,’ ‘Dreams and Glory,’ a photographic journey that spans three generations of Dominican baseball players who flew across the border to the U.S. to elevate themselves sportingly, but also for many, many other reasons.
“Baseball is part of our identity. I grew up going to games every week-it was a kind of unconscious ritual shared with friends and family, populated by beers and food. For this project, I got in touch with some foundations and discovered how socially engaged Dominican MLB players are. So I started traveling and meeting them, trying to understand why they give back so much to their home communities. The stories I listened to are all very similar: they talk about dreams, sacrifices, minor leagues and millionaire success. But all these parables are united by something greater: the visceral connection between baseball and my country, and between those who succeed in becoming MLB players and their homeland.”
Sofía outlines, example after example, lives that have transited from extreme poverty to extreme wealth, thanks to a baseball bat and a glove. She narrates of individual biographies that become collective biographies, of children who become men on the diamond, giving back to the places and people of their childhood what hit and run gave them. But it also recounts those who didn’t make it, taxi drivers and barbers who chased the dream of America’s great stadiums for a long time but never reached it.
“In the Dominican Republic, baseball represents an escape from poverty. It is not just a sport, it is a way to change the outlook of the whole family. I happened to meet families consisting of 5 brothers and, at some point in their lives, all 5 invested everything in the chance to become MLB players. Today there are kids signing ultra-million dollar contracts at 16 years old, so many former players have told me how it used to be completely different between racial segregation and $500 signing bonuses. The economic surge that MLB underwent in the 1990s went hand in hand with the willingness of every Dominican to pursue this path. Now the players are no longer athletes, they are celebrities, and they feel the weight of their country on their shoulders even more intensely. Every Dominican looks up to them. Every Dominican is inspired by them.”
But Sofía’s socio-anthropological research is not confined to the diamond. This young documentary photographer has also explored Dominican prisons, as well as Uptown Manhattan, Little Dominican Republic. The manifestation of a precise identity, made up of religion and superstition, shared values and language barriers: these are and, according to her mentor Joseph Rodriguez vision, will continue to be Sofía’s fields of investigation.
“You can find traces of our culture even in prison, as well as in the playgrounds of Uptown Manhattan, where so many Dominicans play streetball. Baseball is simply the most important platform where Dominicans are represented. So many of these athletes have told me about their early days in the American minor leagues, when they were forced to live with other boys, being in close contact for whole, very long seasons. Even on those occasions the typical Dominican way of being came to the surface: those who could not cook cleaned, and vice versa, recreating a kind of big family. Many ate hamburgers or Mexican food for months because they could only communicate in Spanish in the restaurants…. It is also anecdotes like these that define the culture of my country. I will continue to seek out these stories and continue to tell the Dominican identity.”
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