En español | Most people would be hard-pressed to name a baseball book as revealing and, at the same time, as random as The Eastern Stars, How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Marcorís. The book offers a concise history of the Dominican Republic, a thorough analysis of the effect Major League Baseball has had on this island nation, an exhaustive look at the role of sugar trade in the Caribbean—and recipes for boiled crabs.
After an extended windup focused mainly on the sugar industry and its role in addressing the country's abject poverty, writer Mark Kurlansky delves into the central idea that will attract most readers to his new book: "By 2008, seventy-nine men from San Pedro had already made it into the Major Leagues, where the average [annual] salary was $3 million."
Here we begin to learn the backstory of how, since 1956, the Dominican Republic has placed 471 players in Major League Baseball, one in six of these men coming from a small town at the eastern end of the island (hence the name of the local team and the book), and how working in the sugar cane fields is one of the few means to eke out a living. Baseball offers an escape from these otherwise depressed living conditions, but baseball fever had started much earlier in San Pedro, dating back to 1886, when baseball first found its way into the sugar mills and the community became "one of the greatest wellsprings of ball-playing talent ever known."
Kurlansky, a journalist and author of nine nonfiction books, among them Salt: A World History, presents a vast, though often discursive, amount of research throughout his work. At its best, The Eastern Stars provides a timeline of the Dominican Republic, starting with Columbus's 1492 arrival through the nightmare of the Trujillo regime and the various invasions the country has endured over 500 years (two from Spain, three from Haiti, two from France, and two from the United States), as well as critical details on the ongoing presence of Major League Baseball. And since the U.S. pastime is so closely interwoven with its history as a nation, the larger story becomes one also of the United States.