MLB Players Hit the Beach in Dominican Republic to Clean Trashed Shoreline

Leo Sepkowitz@@LeoSepkowitzContributorJanuary 7, 2020

Mets shiortstop Amed Rosario joined a handful of fellow major leaguers in December to help clean up a beach in the Dominican Republic.
Mets shiortstop Amed Rosario joined a handful of fellow major leaguers in December to help clean up a beach in the Dominican Republic.Photo courtesy of Palm Creative

On a Friday morning in December, Amed Rosario made the short walk from Playa Montesinos to Fuerte San Gil, a pair of beaches in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. At each beach, tall cliffs overlook the warm Caribbean Sea, but the views are obstructed by long rows of recyclables and waste that line the sand.

Rosario, who will begin his fourth season with the New York Mets this spring, grew up around these parts, which has made him accustomed to sights like these. "Just driving around the streets, you see people discarding plastic in the streets without care," he says. "People need to be more conscious about the impact it has on the environment."

On this day, the 24-year-old shortstop is joining volunteers and fellow major leaguers, like Nelson Cruz of the Minnesota Twins, to clean up some local beaches. It's part of an effort by a group called Players for the Planet, spearheaded by former major leaguers Chris Dickerson, a seven-year outfielder, and Slade Heathcott, a 2009 first-round pick by the New York Yankees. The group aims to leverage pro athletes' platforms to raise environmental awareness and concern.

Globally, more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year, according to the United Nations, and less than 10 percent of that has been recycled. In Santo Domingo, where heavy rains often raise the tide, much of that plastic finds its way to the shores.

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But Santo Domingo is not alone in facing the challenge of how to dispose of its waste.

In coastal California, where Dickerson grew up, he developed an acute awareness of the waste that surrounded him and everyone else. His father, he says, hand-made a three-bin recycling system before they were popular. Dickerson was an avid surfer and would often notice stray plastic floating in the sea. While playing Triple-A ball in Louisville, he lamented the horrifying number of plastic bottles players went through. A player would often take four or five bottles with him to batting practice, fighting off the Kentucky summer heat, and then discard them in the clubhouse trash bin afterward. Dickerson, as it happened, sat right next to the bin, which often "looked like a 7-Eleven had just been turned upside down."

Last year, Dickerson was one of many who saw the viral video of a trash wave floating off the Dominican shoreline. Locals saw the clip as well. "When that video went viral, we were all aware of what we do with plastic, how much damage it does," says Cruz.

Quickly, Dickerson organized a cleanup on that very beach—Playa Montesinos—and invited former players, including stars like Robinson Cano. Last month's effort marked the group's second event.

Across two beaches, some 70 volunteers collected 260 pounds of plastic alone (excluding Styrofoam and other waste). It's a nice step forward, though the real battle, locals say, is about informing people to help them understand the dangers of waste and how to properly dispose of recyclable material.

"Education is the key," Cruz says. "Making sure we get educated about where to put the plastic, what the process should be. We [baseball players] are a big piece of the country—people listen to us, we're role models. So if they see us doing this stuff, we're going to influence more people, specifically younger people."

Among Dominican-born players, Players for the Planet counts Cruz, Cano, Rosario, Miguel Andujar, Fernando Rodney and many more as ambassadors. American-born players are involved too, like Giancarlo Stanton, Tyler Glasnow and Brent Suter.

Nelson Cruz (far right), who was one of about 70 major league players and volunteers who met to help clean a beach in Santo Domingo, said that educating people how to properly dispose of waste is as important as getting rid of the waste itself.
Nelson Cruz (far right), who was one of about 70 major league players and volunteers who met to help clean a beach in Santo Domingo, said that educating people how to properly dispose of waste is as important as getting rid of the waste itself.Photo courtesy of Palm Creative

Suter, who won four games out of the bullpen for the Milwaukee Brewers last season, spearheaded his own Strike Out Waste campaign in 2019, prioritizing the use of reusable water bottles throughout the Brewers organization. (The team, he says, cut its plastic use in half.) As Suter worked his way through the debris on Playa Montesinos in December, he was struck by the countless bits of Styrofoam that had broken apart along the shore. "I made a pledge to myself that I'll never consciously eat with a Styrofoam container," he said afterward. "That stuff just keeps 'breaking down,' but it never really breaks down. So it just ends up choking lower species of the food system."

It isn't hard to find disturbing videos of fish that consumed plastic products—like bottle tops—in the sea. Fish eat fragments called microplastics too. Those morsels, per CNN, are "harmful to fish reproduction, immunity, survival skills. What we don't know is what happens when humans eat the fish or sea life … plastic is definitely in our food chain and drinking water."

Indeed, when it comes to cleaning up the world's oceans, much work remains. But for a day, at least, on the coast in Santo Domingo, change and improvement were tangible.

"We had several players show up and several volunteers, and we cleaned up two beaches in a matter of hours," Suter says. "The power of community and coming together is what really gives me hope for the future."