Columnist: Laying back for island life

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Loran Smith

Syndicated columnist

PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic — Recently, there was an invitation to join friends south of the border to enjoy the azure waters of the Caribbean and its temperate breezes — an opportunity for laid-back living on a long weekend in which nobody paid any attention to their watches. The only rush came when a sommelier uncorked a vintage Bordeaux.

The conversation was governed and stimulating without a dominant voice. Nobody had too much to drink, and nobody plopped down on anybody’s nerves. Quiet time brought about a rallying of spirits. Good times prevailed for the duration.

The decorum could have passed for what you might find in the lobby of an Ivy League library.

It is not that you have to head to the islands for any or all of the above, but sometimes when you separate yourself from the normal routine, the detachment itself stimulates affection that makes you savor the moments as emotionally extraordinaire.

Nobody refers to the island of Hispaniola as such anymore, and I am sure that would be upsetting to Christopher Columbus, who claimed this territory for Spain in December of 1492 — just a couple of months after his Oct. 12 discovery of America.

Hispaniola is a two-nation island where you find a little of everything from the abject poverty of Haiti to the upscale resorts of the Dominican Republic. There is good living with the latter, accompanied by golden rays of the sun, white sand, waving palms and, among other things, classic rum.

You can play golf, fish and party. You can also become proficient at doing nothing. If you want to feel productive, you can simply read a book.

Hispaniola, more often than not, has been big on corruption, drugs, assassinations and dictatorships. The Dominican Republic, however, has the largest economy of any nation in the Caribbean and remains a popular tourist destination.

You may remember Rafael Trujillo, the one-time dictator who was not opposed to rubbing someone out if it suited his purposes. In the end, he was to die by the sword, himself being assassinated in 1961. This led to unrest, more murder and corruption right on up until today’s Unitary Presidential Republic. Stability now prevails.

Dominicans are laid back — as are most people who reside on islands in the sun — hospitable, generous, cordial and easy going. You never see a Dominican without a smile. They forever extend helping hands. Or is that confined to this corner of the island?

Sunsets here are visual treasures to keep. Mornings remind you that a new day greeting you without traffic, rush and vocal clutter is not a staple of life for most of us, which is why island living, even for a long weekend, is a coveted experience.

You can’t enjoy a brief respite here without the awareness of the impact the game of baseball has made on this country. Contrary to popular opinion, it was not the United States that brought the game to this island, but Cuba.

In an earlier day, the Big Leagues often signed players who wanted to get off the farm. Dominican kids start playing baseball as soon as they are able to walk.

“They live, sleep, eat and breathe the game,” says Brian Snitker, manager of the Gwinnett Braves. “They play baseball every day, and they can play the game year round. They are always throwing the ball and playing catch. When a kid from the Dominican Republic gets to the majors, he comes with a good arm.”

Baseball is a means to get off the island and an opportunity to enjoy the good life, financially. Snitker remembers that former Braves player infielder Rafael Furcal grew up in a house with dirt floors.

“It was eye opening for me to go down there and see how poor those kids are growing up but how dedicated they are when it comes to baseball. They know the game can provide them with a better opportunity in life, and they develop a great love for baseball even when they don’t have equipment to play with,” Snitker says.

That is not an unfamiliar story when it comes to sports.

Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.