A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

SDX Awards: TV investigative reporting, ESPN

By Quill

“The Dominican Gold Rush” is the story of little boys and big dreams.

Sammy Sosa, Albert Pujols, Pedro Martinez and many others made their way from Third World conditions in the Dominican Republic into American baseball and major league dollars. Most youths, however, are not so lucky. Across the country, scores of young boys are dropping out of school to work with buscones, independent talent scouts who develop the boys’ talents in exchange for a cut of any bonus they might receive.

“As baseball players from the Dominican Republic grew in number and prominence on the major league level, the question arose of how poverty and opportunity intersects for young players in that country,” said ESPN reporter Tom Farrey. “ … The Dominican Republic delivers more talent to Major League Baseball than any foreign country – 79 players during the 2004 season. And nearly one quarter of all minor league players are from the small, Caribbean country.”

While big-name players made their mark in American baseball, Farrey, along with associate producer Dan Arruda, coordinating producer Ronnie Forchheimer and Vice President/Director of News Vince Doria, exposed the world to other side of the story. In “The Dominican Gold Rush,” the team reported on the big, broken dreams of many exploited Dominican youths.

“The most challenging aspect of this story was crossing cultures and languages to dig out sources and information, then presenting it in a manner that hit home with a U.S., English-speaking audience,” said Farrey.

One segment covered the story of one buscone who went so far as to change the name and age of a player so he could get a larger bonus, then took most the money.

“Many of the boys and families we were dealing with lived in poor, chaotic areas, so simply finding victims of these abuses was not always easy,” said Farrey. “And the Dominican government, as well as many Dominican baseball people, were not eager to have these problems explored, as the success of that nation’s major leaguers is a source of pride.”

In the third segment, the team documented the use of veterinary and other dangerous substances by young baseball players hoping to get a contract. The story focused on the death of Lino Ortiz, a catcher who died after injecting himself with a cheap but powerful vitamin supplement designed for livestock.

Segments also addressed Major League Baseball’s seemingly laissez-faire attitude toward the abuse of Dominican potentials. Since publication, Major League Baseball has promised to pay more attention, and the public immediately reacted.

“Major League Baseball officials pledged to address the issues raised in our reports, through drug testing and other measures,” said Farrey. “A group of Dominican-American activists, politicians and community leaders led a public protest of baseball’s drug policy in the Dominican, placing a symbolic casket at the doorstep of MLB’s New York offices.”