To answer the question of why I wrote my newest book, The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macorís, I first have to ask why I write at all. I have thought a great deal about why I spend usually more than 50 hours a week alone in a room having a conversation with myself. George Orwell's famous 1946 essay, “Why I Write” begins, “From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer.” The same is true of me. But unlike Orwell, I derive tremendous enjoyment from those hours alone. He described the process of writing as “like a long bout of some painful illness.”
For me, writing a book is more like an adventure. There are days when I think I should have never started, but I always know that when it is over, I will be glad I made the journey. But it is more than just the journey. I want to tell people about it. I am first and foremost a storyteller; I want to tell a good story and I want it to mean something—something that I think is important.
I have written a considerable amount—both fiction and nonfiction—about the Caribbean. My love for this part of the world is centered on a deep admiration for its people—a people who are both tough and romantic, dreamers and cynics, people who face a thousand defeats and are never defeated. I have long thought that the best way to write about this would be to write of one Caribbean town. What better town than San Pedro de Macorís, with its sugar boom years and its sugar bust years, its grinding poverty and its one way out—Major League baseball. Though San Pedro has produced 79 major league players—the ultimate rags-to-riches story from starvation to multimillionaire—those 79 represent less than 5% of the San Pedro kids who have tried. The failure of the others is made more poignant by this dazzling roster of 79.
Baseball, always a great metaphor, is particularly apt in the Caribbean. What sets baseball apart from other sports is the array of skills that every player needs, the speed, the power, the agility. Baseball players are not specialists, they all have to do it all. That is why I, and many aficionados, dislike the American League's practice of replacing the pitcher with a designated hitter. This creates two players who do not have to do it all. Caribbeans tend to be individualists and struggle with team sports. In soccer they don't like to pass the ball. They want to score goals. But in baseball everyone steps up to the plate, everyone has a chance to be a star and score runs. That is what these poor people with a hard history want—a chance to step up to the plate and be a star.
And that is why the story of San Pedro, a story of poor people taking their shot and making it or not making it, is a story of drama, inspiration, and some importance, and that is why I wanted to tell it.