America’s Favorite Pastime, Part 3 of 3: Immigration in Baseball — Barriers to Entry


Baseball Players Are Rollin’ in Cash, Right?

Most of us would agree that a half-million dollars is a lot of money. Well, the minimum salary for a Major League Baseball player is more than a half-million dollars. The point is, don’t cry for the best baseball players, whether they’re American or foreign-born — they’re doing just fine.

However, that doesn’t mean that all professional players live a life of luxury. The majority of minor leaguers — young guys who haven’t yet made it and veterans clinging to a last chance — make less than the federal poverty level. Many international players earn more money than those minor leaguers as a result of signing bonuses given to international free agents. But that doesn’t mean that international players have it easy by any stretch of the imagination. Let’s take a look at some of the areas where MLB players come from and examine the primary obstacles faced by players from different places around the world.



Asia: Long-distance Travel and Language

In Part 1 of this series, NuSkool examined how far players must travel from various countries to play in MLB. Asian players have it the toughest in that regard. The Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, for instance, must fly almost 7,000 miles from home to play for the New York Yankees. In addition to the distance they must travel, Japanese players have larger language barriers than their Latin American counterparts. Since there are so many Spanish-speaking players in MLB, those players can rely on each other to overcome language struggles. There are fewer Asian players, though, so most of them are forced to hire their own translators to help them navigate the big leagues. Finally, Japanese players must adjust to the size of the American baseball, which is a bit larger than the standard Japanese ball.



The Caribbean: Sharks and Milk Cartons

While Cuban players have much less distance to travel than Asian immigrants, Part 2 of NuSkool’s series highlighted the considerable obstacles Cubans must overcome in order to reach America. Those include harsh immigration laws, limited opportunities to defect, and journeys through shark-infested waters.

Players from other Caribbean countries also face various obstacles. Young players in the Dominican Republic, for example, often learn the game using makeshift baseball “bats” made out of tree limbs and “gloves” fashioned out of milk cartons. (Suddenly, the different size of the Japanese baseball doesn’t seem like a big deal.) Whereas many American players grow up with high-tech baseball gear, Caribbean boys must overcome their significant lack of resources to reach MLB.



Central America: Lack of Resources and Exposure

Players from Central America overcome some of the same obstacles as those in the Caribbean. High poverty rates lead to a lack of equipment, and while some countries have baseball academies, such resources are not accessible in all places. Therefore, even talented players are sometimes overlooked because MLB scouts have not had the chance to see them play. Who know how many big league-quality players have lost out on the chance to play in the majors due to lack of exposure?


The Money Makes it Worthwhile!

All of the obstacles mentioned above contribute to the difficult journeys of immigrant baseball players. However, for talented ballplayers from foreign countries, the allure of the high wages in MLB — a minimum salary of a half-million dollars! — make it totally worthwhile to take on those obstacles.



Some media may contain mature content. Discretion is advised when viewing with students.

Japanese players in the majors

Japanese players in the Majors

MLB Productions looks at some of the best Japanese baseball players to play in the Majors

Impact of Dominican players

Impact of Dominican players

The guys on MLB Now analyze the impact of players from the Dominican Republic in MLB

Lesson Plan

LEARNING OBJECTIVE: This lesson will teach students how to make a persuasive claim and address counter-claims by citing evidence. Students will understand that a good persuasive argument should be supported with evidence and should address and refute counter-claims.

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Lesson tags: Baseball, Eighth, English, Featured, Ninth, Persuasive Arguments, Persuasive Writing, Sports, Tenth

Francis Tolan

Francis Tolan Francis is a Special Education and Social Studies teacher in the Bronx, NY. He's a new father but he's not too far from being a child himself. You can find his writing about sports, pop culture, fatherhood, and general nonsense on his blog at