At George Washington High School, Beisbol is a Hit
By Tripp Mickle

Fernando Frias is baseball crazy. The sophomore at George Washington High School spends close to 20 hours a week playing baseball games and practicing with the Trojans, then adds an additional five hours of specialized training with a private coach.

Photo by Rodrigo Campos
Of the immigrant communities coming to New York, few share the passion for baseball carried by the Dominicans who live for the sport.
Watch an aspiring professional on George Washington's team share his big-league dreams.
Dominicans possess an unrivaled passion for baseball. Hear them explain in a slideshow.

So when the 6-foot-1-inch, 192-pound slugger walked off the diamond with a .700 batting average after a week long high school tournament in late April, it came as no surprise. Nor did it come as any surprise that George Washington won the tournament.

Frias is just one of more than 25 equally dedicated and enthuasitic Dominican baseball players who have helped turn the high school baseball program into one of the best in the city. While coach Steve Mandl has guided the team’s rise, the Dominican ballplayers from Washington Heights and the Bronx have carried the team to prominence.

 “They bring a talent and a passion for the game you don’t see anywhere else,” said Arnaldo Cubero, a citywide umpire, who’s been calling games for 25 years. “They want to play more than anyone else.”

The Dominican Republic accounts for the largest source of immigrants to New York City with more than 369,000 people arriving since 1990. That same influx can be seen in Major League Baseball, as the Dominican Republic supplies more players for the league than any other nation outside the U.S.

For Dominican immigrants and their children who hope to play professional baseball, George Washington High has become the place to foster that dream. Since the mid-1980s, the school has produced two World Series winners in the Major Leagues: Manny Ramirez of the Boston Red Sox and former Florida Marlins shortstop Alex Arias. Both Dominican, their success has given other young ballplayers hope.

“That’s the only reason I came here,” Juan Brito, a 17-year old junior said. “Our coach is like a hall of famer. I knew I’d come out of here a good player.”

All but two players on the George Washington team are Dominican. Many are the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. Most believe baseball offers the best way to obtain a better life for themselves and their families.

“Baseball was what we were born to do,” said Chris Jones, a 17-year old junior and son of a Dominican. “We just want to get drafted.”

During the course of the spring break baseball tournament at George Washington, both the rise of Dominicans in New York and in baseball was on display. Schools like Walton, Norman Thomas and Kennedy high schools featured rosters filled with Spanish names – more than 80 percent of which were Dominican. But none of those teams could rival George Washington’s appeal, history and dedication among Dominican ballplayers.

“In the Dominican tradition, if you play at George Washington, it’s like playing at Yankee Stadium,” said Youman Wilder, a private baseball instructor who works with players citywide. “For some insane reason, it’s known in the Dominican Republic.”

George Washington, a collegiate four-story brick building, sits on the crest of a small hill near the northeastern tip of Manhattan. The school technically encompasses four different ones: the High School for Media and Communications; the High School for International Business and Finance; the High School for Health Careers and Sciences; and the High School for Law and Public Service. Just below the school lies one of only two high school baseball fields on the island.

While most of George Washington’s players come from the surrounding Washington Heights neighborhood, others travel from outlying boroughs. Angel Nunez, a senior second baseman on the team, comes to the school from Brooklyn in order to play baseball. Though he has left his home in Brooklyn for school before 6 a.m. many mornings, he has said it’s worth the trek to play ball at George Washington.

Part of the reason players like Nunez and others travel so far is the school’s rich history. Not only has it produced players like Ramirez and Arias, it has also won more than 298 league games since coach Steve Mandl took over the program in 1983. Since 2001, the team has gone 77-4. The only other Public Schools Athletic League team to come close to that record is Staten Island’s Tottenville, which is 65-2.

Mandl’s leadership has been central to the team’s success. Since taking over, he’s built an overall record of 696 wins and 92 losses. Opposing coaches, players and umpires admire him for his work ethic and his team’s discipline.

Mandl arrives at school at 5:15 every morning to run a one-hour daily camp for junior high students. While the camp gives him a chance to evaluate young talent, he does it to give the players instruction, assistant coach Ronny de la Rosa said. His high school team warms itself up before games, forming an organized row for coordinated stretches and jumping jacks.

“He’s not a loud mouth coach,” said Arnaldo Cubero, an umpire, who’s been working city high school games for 25 years. “He’s a the-way-it’s-supposed-to-be coach with signs and discipline.”

For the Dominican ballplayers who form the backbone of the team, it’s hard to imagine playing for anyone else.

“It’s a big honor just to have George Washington on your shirts,” Rodriguez said, as he sat in the concrete stands above the field and watched as two other baseball teams played.

“It’s not just a name,” Brito added. “It has meaning to it.”

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2006 NYC24 is a production of the New Media Workshop at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism