HBO’s Real Sports explores the perils of the Dominican Republic’s roads, one of baseball’s deadliest antagonists
The road often serves as an emblem for a journey. A means to discover, explore, and grow. In the Dominican Republic, however, the street far too often ends these expeditions.
I had a chance to preview HBOs new Real Sports segment on driving in the Dominican Republic with Jon Frankel, and it is heartbreaking.
We all watched Carlos Martinez, on Opening Day, etch the numbers 8 and 36 into the mound, tributes to his friends Oscar Tavares and Yordano Ventura who died this year on the perilous DR roads. Both were promising young stars, shining bright, and taken from the baseball family all too soon.
Taveras was a St. Louis Cardinal and his fluid swing powered the team to the playoffs during his rookie campaign. But just four weeks after circling the bases at Busch, his red Camaro struck a tree late one night in the DR and he was killed.
Ventura honored his memory as a starting pitcher in the World Series, writing O.T on his cap before, in a cruel circle of fate , he would be taken away in the same manner that summer.
Since the 1980s, 15 other major leaguers have had their lives ended by the Dominican Republic’s precarious avenues and complete disregard for the laws of the road give the nation the highest number of fatal car accidents per capita in the Western hemisphere.
It is not a result of winding roads through treacherous cliffs or falling rocks, but a culture where drinking and driving is commonplace, and automotive safety is neglected. Gas stations have fully stocked liquor stores, drive-thru bars pepper the landscape, traffic cops end their shifts at 7pm, and traffic lights blink impotently after 11.
Families of four whip through the streets, gripping the leather of the family motorcycle, while countless drivers nurse an open bottle at the wheel of their trucks. Death waits at every turn.
Amaury Telemaco is our guide during the segment. Once a pitcher for the Phillies, he is now a scout and coach for the Pirate’s DR academy, and he has taken it upon himself to end the tragedies.
He prays every morning that he may survive his drive to work through the “Valley of Death,” and feels responsible for the insufficient understanding of the dangers of the road among ballplayers and young people in the country.
It’s baffling to think that merely driving to work, a monotonously repetitive task, necessitates a plea to the heavens to save one’s own mortality
The video is filled with harrowing videos of cars careening through intersections, spinning, squealing, and smashing in the streets. Telemaco laughs when Frankel asks about the universality of drinking and driving.
He describes the shared attitude of youths on the road: “When I’m hot [drunk], that’s when I’m good” they say. It’s “a joke” Telemaco explains, there is an irrational neglecting of the consequences.
Combine high toxicology with incessant speeding and the absence of seatbelts, and it is unsurprising that trauma surgeons treat 50-60 traffic accident victims every day.
Too often we have seen thousands march behind a coffin and a weeping mother. A young man who worked too hard to have their vitality smothered.
So we have a moment of silence, our eyes directed downwards, a graphic of the victim emblemized on a screen. A minute later, though, the remembrance ends, the game goes on, and we forget until the next spirit is extinguished.
Telemaco has started the “Ni Uno Mas” campaign to educate his players about risks they face behind the wheel. The legacy of these talented players should not have be a cross on the side of the road to mark their last breaths, but a lasting impact on the field and in their communities.
The episode will air tonight at 10pm ET.