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David Ortiz, Jonathan Herrera recall their Independence Days

07.04.14 at 1:28 am ET
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While baseball may be America’s Pastime, Major League Baseball is certainly an international league. At the beginning of the 2014, 224 players — 26.3 percent of MLB rosters — were born outside the United States. The Dominican Republic led the way with 83 players while Venezuela was second with 59.

Many major league teams have baseball academies in a variety of countries as a way to unearth the international talent of tomorrow. The majority of players signed internationally don’t make it past the Dominican Summer League, where players get their first — and maybe last — exposure to professional baseball.

For those who don’t make the cut, the dream to play professional baseball in the United States is over. The select few who make it to the majors, however, are grateful for the opportunity to live the American dream. Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who was signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Mariners in 1992 at the age of 17, used to dream about the opportunity to live in the United States.

“I knew that it was a wonderful place and somewhere everybody wanted to live at,” Ortiz said. “You know how you always hear about the American dream? It’s something that everybody [wants to] be part of in one way or another.”

Jonathan Herrera, who was signed out of Venezuela by the Rockies in ’02 at the age of 17, remembers watching MLB games on television at home in Maracaibo, dreaming of one day being a player Venezuelans could cheer for.

“As a kid, your goal and you dream is to sign for any team in the big leagues and try to make the big leagues,” Herrera said. “That’s the goal for any kid at that age. You watch TV a lot and dream to be there one day.”

Once they signed with their respective teams, Ortiz and Herrera went to the Dominican Summer League in attempt to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Ortiz, then known as David Arias due to a clerical error, hit .264/.372/.463 with seven home runs, 31 RBIs and 17 doubles in 61 games in the DSL in 1993.

Ortiz went on to play in the Arizona Fall League for two years following his stint in the DSL. Had Ortiz not made the cut, the 38-year-old is not sure what he would have done — he had not fully thought out a backup plan to baseball at the time.

“I wasn’t a student and I used to work with my uncle,” Ortiz said. “I did not know how life was going to turn out and what it was going to be like if I couldn’t be a baseball player. It’s not something that I could really tell you. Everybody’s life is different. You’ve got to prepare for something just in case something else doesn’t work, but I definitely was going to be doing something because I’m the kind of guy that thinks about the future a lot, always.”

Herrera, on the other hand, was in school when he signed with the Rockies. The 29-year-old, who hit .300/.371/.361 with 22 RBIs, 10 doubles, two triples and 23 stolen bases in the DSL in 2002, had aspirations beyond baseball had he not made it past the first chopping block.

“I wanted to be trainer and I’d like to be a trainer when I retire,” Herrera said. “Every country is different. Especially in [Venezuela], we go to school and try to go the farthest that you can in school and see what happens in the future. If you can’t make it, you can return.”

When he got to the United States, Herrera remembers being most impressed by the extent teams prepared their players to play and live in the United States.

“It’s really impressive the way that they train you and the way they prepare you to be a professional,” Herrera said. “They have all of the facilities in our countries, so that’s something that you [look at].”

Ortiz is still grateful every single day to have the opportunity to work in United States.

“It’s always been good,” Ortiz said. “It’s always been an honor to live in this country. This country is my second home and my life has been great since I’ve been living in this country. What I do, the only country that supported it is America. You don’t have Major League Baseball anywhere else. I’m always happy and proud of being here.”

Fourteen years after first moving to the United States, Ortiz made a lifelong commitment to his second home. Ortiz was sworn in as an American citizen on June 11, 2008, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. When he took the oath of citizenship and held a small American flag, Ortiz stood in the front row next to his wife, Tiffany, and his children. Ortiz remembers the day fondly.

“[I thought about] just being able to travel with them and do things with them without having any issue, knowing that my wife and kids are from here,” Ortiz said. “It’s one thing that I really appreciate.”

Herrera, meanwhile, is in the process of pursuing citizenship. The utility infielder recently applied and hopes to take the oath of citizenship sooner rather than later.

Both Ortiz and Herrera recognize how lucky they are to have the opportunity to play professional baseball in the United States. Ortiz and Herrera say that the opportunities that the country has provided are limitless. Ortiz says he never takes living in the United States for granted.

“Never, never, never,” Ortiz said. “I take pride in what I do every day and I appreciate and I thank God for making my future look like this in America.”

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