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Dominican Republic trip more than baseball


Former Norwell shortstop Josh VanMeter, who joined the San Diego Padres organization as a fifth-round pick in this year’s MLB draft, has no idea what to expect when he heads to the Dominican Republic for an instructional league today.

Sure, VanMeter had Dominican teammates in Arizona, where he played for the Padres’ rookie league affiliate. But those guys were still dealing with the culture shock he’s about to experience when he heads abroad until Oct. 17.

“You can’t really get a whole lot out of them because they don’t really speak a whole lot of English,” said the 18-year-old, who batted .278 in the Arizona League during his first professional season.

Now, he’s the one who will be in a foreign country, listening to an unknown language and trying to learn all he can about baseball.

The Padres’ spring training complex in Arizona is undergoing renovations, and the higher-ups in San Diego decided to move fall training to the Dominican Republic. The players, which include Fort Wayne native and former Indiana Tech pitcher Brandon Alger, TinCaps pitcher Max Fried and TinCaps outfielder Hunter Renfroe, will begin workouts Wednesday.

Alger, who pitched for Lake Elsinore, San Diego’s Advanced-A club this season, had a 4-9 record and a 5.68 ERA, but he boasted a 2.25 ERA in relief over his last 10 games. He hopes to use this time to build off that rebound.

And all the American players will get a chance to experience a new culture and gain perspective on what growing up in the U.S. has given them.

“We get to go over and see how some of the Latino guys kind of grew up and how they got to where they are – you know, kind of see the struggles and hardships they probably went through,” VanMeter said. “I think for us American guys, it will be a humbling experience for sure.”

The facility is in Najayo, San Cristobal. According to the Padres website, the 15-acre complex opened in 2008 and cost the club $8 million.

The three-week program is run by Randy Smith, the Padres’ vice president of player development and international scouting, and his staff. Players will be at the complex most of the day for instruction and then will get a chance to see the surrounding communities.

This trip will help the prospects hone their craft and also introduce them to the realities of what Latino players go through on American soil.

“I think it’s going to be an eye-opening experience for a lot of guys,” Smith said. “Its going to be different food, a different culture, the television is going to be all in Spanish – it’s turning the tables on them, really.”

The group will take a trip to the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo, where Christopher Columbus first landed. It is home to the first colonial church, hospital and school.

The breadth of history in the region, as well as the cultural and socioeconomic differences, will make VanMeter’s first trip outside the U.S. a stunner.

“It’s a great opportunity,” the Ossian native said. “A select few guys go, and it’s kind of hand-picked by the organization. I don’t think it will be anything but a positive thing.”