Diamonds are forever in the Dominican Republic.
That’s baseball diamonds. And a New Hampshire man is helping to foster more love of the game for kids in the Dominican Republic through an ambitious baseball card giveaway program.
Since December 2020, Darren Garnick has been mailing cards of Dominican players to youngsters on the island via Sosua75, a nonprofit organization. His website, Cards4theDR, works to provide free baseball cards to Dominican youths. He also promotes the idea through his Instagram account.
The volunteer effort has been supported by baseball fans — and baseball card collectors — across the U.S. and Canada. Youths in the Dominican Republic ranging in age from 6 to 16, many of whom have never seen a baseball card, now proudly own cards of their country’s homegrown heroes.
“There’s just a joy of giving cards away,” said Garnick, 54, a technology writer for PTC, a Boston-based computer software company. “You can’t buy cards down there. The only way you can buy them is online.”
The die-hard Red Sox fan, who was born in Boston and considered Carney Lansford his favorite player, finally realized a dream of delivering cards face to face to eager young baseball fans. The COVID-19 pandemic made that impossible for more than a year, but in June, Garnick traveled to the island carrying “a stuffed suitcase with baseball cards and T-shirts.” He visited six towns — Sosua, Gaspar Hernandez, Puerto Plata, Cabrera, Manoguayabo and Batey Madre.
Meeting with players from youth leagues, Garnick passed out three or four cards apiece to about 50 to 100 kids in each town. Their enthusiasm was shared by parents and coaches, and the youths were eager to trade cards with each other — and with Garnick.
“I was blown away,” Garnick said.
To say baseball is popular in the Dominican Republic is like calling Mona Lisa a nice painting. It’s much more than that.
According to Major League Baseball, 10% of the players on Opening Day rosters this year — 99 of them — are from the Dominican Republic. The island is baseball mad and has the most rostered players among the 275 non-U.S.-born competitors.
The Dominican’s population is roughly 3.3% of the U.S., but current players with ties to the island include Juan Soto, Wander Franco, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr. and Rafael Devers. Residents can proudly point to Hall of Famers Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero Sr. And in two weeks, David Ortiz will join that group of inductees.
Still, the country is one of the world’s poorest. According to data from the World Bank, the Dominican Republic’s gross national income (GNI) in 2021 was $8,220 per capita. By comparison, the U.S. per capita figure was $70,430 last year.
“People are living in one-room homes. But these communities are wonderful, and they have great passion for baseball,” Garnick said. “The baseball field anchors the neighborhood.
“It’s easy to see why so many players come from there. They play baseball 24/7. (The kids) said they wanted to make the majors so they could help their families get out of poverty. It’s like a lottery ticket.”
Garnick became interested in the Dominican Republic while researching the island’s role in rescuing Jewish refugees during World War II. His friend, Hugh Baver, had moved from New Hampshire to Sosua and wanted to build a community center and sports complex on the island as “a living memorial” for the town’s historic role in Holocaust history. Garnick wrote in an April 2022 opinion piece for Jewish Journal that at the 1938 Evian Conference in France, only the Dominican Republic agreed to allow refugees. About 1,000 settled in Sosua.
“The Jewish history thing was the first domino,” Garnick said. “That set off the other dominoes.”
Garnick had been collecting baseball cards since he was 8 years old. His favorite two cards from that 1976 Topps set were the Kurt Bevacqua bubble gum blowing champion card (No. 564) and the ’76 Traded card of Oscar Gamble (No. 74T) that featured the outfielder’s huge Afro sticking out from under his cap.
As he looked through cards that had been sitting in binders for years, Garnick made a fateful decision.
“I thought to myself that there’s not as much trading that goes on. My friend (Baver) was working on a project to build a community center,” Garnick said. “So I went through my cards and found around 500 (of players from the Dominican Republic) to send to Hugh. It was really an opportunity to rediscover my collection. They were such a huge hit with the kids.”
Garnick soon found that other collectors were just as eager to help out.
“One of the big surprises was the generosity of baseball card collectors,” he said. “They started sending me Soto and Tatis cards.”
It snowballed from there, and Garnick and his friends were able to distribute hundreds of cards in June.
This is not the first time Garnick has initiated a project targeting cards for a particular audience. He donated cards of New Hampshire baseball players, including the late Mike Flanagan (who was born in Manchester) and Steve Balboni (who went to Memorial High School in Manchester) to the city’s Millyard Museum, which then handed them out to local youths.
Garnick is hoping to attract some interest among major league players and card manufacturers with his latest project.
“I’ve tagged a bunch of Dominican players on Instagram but haven’t heard from them,” Garnick said. “I hope a baseball team or Topps looks at this and says, ‘This is amazing, how can we help?’”
Giving cards to kids who live and breathe baseball is also therapeutic in a time when the world is reeling from poverty, COVID-19, mass shootings and political divisiveness.
“That’s why I love baseball cards,” Garnick said. “You can shove aside world reality with baseball cards.
“It can take me back to that time when I was a kid and collected. (In the Dominican Republic) we were surrounded by that vibe.”
If you are interested in donating, mail to:
Cards For the DR
P.O. Box 171
Milford, NH 03055.
Only cards of players from the Dominican Republic are accepted. Please include your email address in the package so Darren Garnick can confirm receipt. Garnick also asks any donors who have Instagram accounts to share their names.