A number of sports are popular in the Dominican Republic, including volleyball, golf, basketball, soccer and horse racing. But two sports – baseball and cockfighting – are far and away the most popular sports in the Dominican Republic and both have long, rich traditions.
Popular sports in the Dominican Republic: Baseball
Not just the USA’s game, beísbol is part of the Dominican social and cultural landscape. So much so that ballplayers who have made good in the US major leagues are without a doubt the most popular and revered figures in the country. Over 400 Dominicans have played in the major leagues (in 2007 there were 99 Dominicans, around 10% of all major leaguers).
The Dominican professional baseball league’s season runs from October to January, and is known as the Liga de Invierno (Winter League; the winner of the DR league competes in the Caribbean World Series against other Latin- American countries). The country has six professional baseball teams: Licey and Escojido, both of Santo Domingo; the Águilas from Santiago; the Estrellas from San Pedro de Macorís; the Gigantes of San Francisco de Macorís; and the Azuqueros from La Romana. Because the US and Dominican seasons don’t overlap, many Dominican players in the US major leagues and quite a few non-Dominicans play in the winter league in the DR as well (rookie teams play a second season from June to August). Needless to say, the quality of play is high, but even if you’re not a fan of the sport, it’s worth checking out a game or two. It’s always a fun afternoon or evening. Fans are decked out in their respective team’s colours waving pennants and flags, as rabidly partisan as the Yankees–Red Sox rivalry, and dancers in hot pants perform to loud merengue beats on top of the dugouts between innings.
A typical Dominican Sport: Cockfighting
One of the typical sports in the Dominican Republic is Cockfighting. The cockfight rings (galleras) look like mini sports arenas or ancient coliseums, which is appropriate since Dominicans approach these brutal contests between specially bred roosters as events worthy of the same enthusiasm. There are around 1500 official galleras throughout the country, but by far the most prestigious – and safe – is the Coliseo Gallístico Alberto Bonetti Burgos (p99), which regularly hosts international competitions. Gambling on fights is part of the sport, all conducted under a strict honour code. That said, some small-town rings are decidedly seedy and tourists should be alert for trouble.
It’s said that fighting roosters first arrived on the island in 1492 with Columbus and that the sport is as much part of the Dominican culture as bullfighting is in Spain, maybe even more so. Perhaps it’s no surprise that cockfighting – specifically the roosters’ intensity and willingness to fight to the death – would resonate in a country that has endured so much civil strife and outside manipulation.