Cubs prospects learn much in Dominican
Adduci, Jackson bring cultural, life experience to camp
CHICAGO -- Jim Adduci remembers the cold showers. Brett Jackson says he won't forget the rough fields or the endless diet of rice and beans.
The two Cubs Minor Leaguers spent one month in the Dominican Republic and learned how different baseball is in the U.S. compared to the Caribbean island.
"You definitely step out of your skin a little bit," said Jackson, the Cubs' No. 1 Draft pick last June. "You see where these kids live, and that's home to them and they don't know anything different. We're fortunate to grow up where we did. I was certainly spoiled growing up in Northern California. It puts a lot in perspective. I'm really thankful."
The Cubs schedule the junkets so the players have a better understanding of what life is like for their Dominican teammates.
"It's a reward and a 'Keep it going' kind of thing," said Dave Keller, the team's Minor League hitting coordinator. "We want them to work on stuff and enjoy themselves."
Jackson went in November with Minor Leaguers Rebel Ridling, Ryan Flaherty, DJ LeMahieu, Logan Watkins, Matt Cerda, Sergio Burruel and Kyler Burke. They stayed at an Embassy Suites hotel, joking that they got to stay "at the Embassy."
When Adduci went in 2008, he lived in the dorms at the Cubs' academy in Boca Chica, which apparently didn't have any hot water.
"I'll never forget the cold showers," Adduci said.
The players would practice from 7:30 a.m. until 11 a.m., then play a game. They had Sundays off, which, Jackson said, "was the best day of the week." Players could catch up on their sleep or play golf or go to the beach.
Neither Jackson nor Adduci, both outfielders, are fluent in Spanish but being totally immersed in the language helped. They didn't need interpreters at the end of their stints.
"By the end of the month, we could understand what they were saying in the meetings and they didn't have to say anything in English," Jackson said.
During Adduci's trip, the players would travel by bus to different ballparks. The bus would pull over to pick up the scorekeeper and the umpires.
"They'd just be standing on the side of the road, waiting," Adduci said.
He did like what seemed like a simpler lifestyle there.
"The people just go about their day," he said. "It was a cultural event for me."
Both Adduci and Jackson will be in Mesa, Ariz., when Spring Training opens. Pitchers and catchers have their first workout Feb. 18. Adduci, who batted .300 at Double-A Tennessee, was added to the Cubs' 40-man roster. Jackson joined the Rookie League team in Mesa briefly after he signed, then played for Class A Boise and batted .330 in 24 games before being promoted to Class A Peoria, where he hit .295 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 26 games. He's one of 19 non-roster invitees, which also includes past No. 1 picks Andrew Cashner and Josh Vitters.
When camp opens, they'll be reunited with some of their new Dominican friends.
"We met some special kids down there, and I'm excited to see them in the States," Jackson said. "It was a great experience. I think it was very important for our development and preparation for what's to come. It puts a lot of things in perspective."
Such as the condition of the fields. Jackson grew up in Berkeley, Calif., and is used to well-manicured ballparks, not fields which sometimes are used as pastures for goats. He's also used to having other food options than rice and beans. One of the players on the November trip apparently didn't handle the food or conditions well and had to spend a couple nights in a hospital to recover.
Anyone who has seen the movie "Sugar" will get a glimpse at what the Cubs' Minor Leaguers were exposed to in the Dominican Republic.
"[Baseball] is their life," Jackson said. "You make it or you don't. Baseball is the only way out. You see these kids, they're fighting every day for something really important. It's a hobby for us -- for me, it's a hobby, a luxury that I have the opportunity to play baseball professionally for money. To them, it's life or death."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.