A young man sits on a tree's roots and reads a book

Game Plan for Life

Building a passion for reading in the Dominican Republic

Erison Frías has a hard time picking a favorite subject in school. English, math, philosophy, history, geography.

“I like all subjects because they are all important and they all teach you things you must learn in life,” explains the 15-year-old.

A group of young people walking on a dirt path
A young man listens in a group study session
A young man shows a teacher his school notebook

In addition to being a superstar in the classroom, he is a baseball super fan.

It’s hard not to cheer on the game in the Dominican Republic, a country renowned for being home to some of the world’s greatest players.

A young man writes in a notebook

Tough Choices

But baseball dreams can run into a complicated reality.

In pursuit of the fame and money that comes with a Major League Baseball contract, young boys drop out of school – sometimes pressured by their own family. Education can be the first thing to fall by the wayside.

It’s a grown-up story. But Erison tells it from his own perspective – one that can reach kids of any age.

His book about a young Dominican named Daniel weighing the pros and cons between staying in school and pursuing a baseball career took top honors in a writing contest.

The contest was sponsored by Baseball Cares, a partnership between USAID, Major League Baseball and Major League Baseball Players Association.

A person shows the back of their t-shit, which says
The pages of an open book
A close up of a baseball cap that reads
A row of four young students looks toward the front of a classroom

The partnership uses the values of baseball to promote literacy in schools in the Dominican Republic. The writing competition is just one part of the program. Students attend classes where respect, honesty and teamwork are interwoven with literacy skills to help them succeed in and outside the classroom.

Reaching Goals

Erison’s father, Nelson, had dreams of playing baseball when he was young and shared that desire with his son, whom he has raised on his own since Erison was just a baby.

“I am very happy for this,” he said. “We are a poor family, and this is something that makes us proud.”

Two young men pose for the camera
A young man holds a baseball bat across his shoulders on a baseball field
Children play baseball in a yard

In Erison’s rural community, baseball equipment includes sticks from the yard and balls made of rolled-up socks.

Giving Back

Dominican Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero knows he is one of the lucky few to drop out of school yet still become baseball royalty.

It’s a path he doesn’t want others to follow.

“I always tell parents to help, if they can, to help them stay in school,” says Guerrero. “We’re not all going to be baseball players.”

Angels professional baseball players talk to young people on a baseball field
A closeup of an autographed baseball
A group photo of young people and pro baseball player Vladimir Guerrero
Students in uniforms walk to school

For Erison, staying in school is a no-brainer.

A young man sits cross-legged on the grass of a baseball field

“The most important thing,” Erison says, “is to finish school and then study a career, achieve my goals and show people that it can be done.”

“I would like to be a baseball player so I can teach people that it can be done, like the story, be a professional and also be a baseball player and have a good education.”

About This Story

Baseball Cares is a partnership between USAID, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association that aims to improve basic education for children in the Dominican Republic by tackling reading skills, improving opportunities for children with disabilities, reducing bullying, and combating domestic violence and child abuse.

The project takes advantage of the country’s passion for baseball – and its history of producing stand-out players in the MLB – to get kids enthusiastic about learning. In addition to San Cristobal, the program works through schools in Santo Domingo, San Cristobal and San Pedro de Macoris.

In addition to activities for children ages 10-18, Baseball Cares also provides training for teachers and principals to expand the positive impact on the school community.

Photos and video by Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID