The Charger Blog

History Professor Pitches Importance of Baseball, Politics, and Culture in New Book

In her inaugural book, April Yoder, Ph.D., explains the important role baseball has played in democracy and politics in the Dominican Republic over the last century. She hopes her book will inspire her readers while shining a spotlight on the important contributions Dominicans have made to the game – and how it, in turn, impacts their culture.

April 12, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

April Yoder, Ph.D., celebrating with fans on the baseball field.
April Yoder, Ph.D., after fans "rushed" the field to celebrate after Escogido won the national championship in 2012.

For April Yoder, Ph.D., studying baseball reveals much more than game strategies and batting averages. As a student of history, she found baseball to be a fascinating teacher, and she’s now sharing what she’s learned in her first book.

Dr. Yoder’s research has brought her to the Dominican Republic and back, examining the past nearly 100 years of the country’s and the game’s history. She found that baseball, a sport that is immensely popular in the Caribbean nation, has much to reveal about the nation’s history and its struggle for democracy and social justice. She’s spent more than a decade researching baseball and politics, and she’s excited to share what she’s learned.

April Yoder, Ph.D., with a copy of her book.
April Yoder, Ph.D., with a copy of her book.

“I’ve wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember,” said Dr. Yoder, an associate professor of history. “Publishing this book means I’ve realized that dream.”

In Pitching Democracy: Baseball and Politics in the Dominican Republic, which was released in March, Dr. Yoder discusses how Dominican citizens used baseball to resist dictatorships and push governments claiming to be democratic to enact policies promoting economic opportunity and political participation.

While researching baseball over the 20th century, Dr. Yoder discovered how Dominicans viewed and leveraged the game differently. While Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo used the sport to increase his popularity, citizens associated baseball with economic opportunity following the success of several first-generation standouts. These were “rags-to-riches” stories, she says, that resonated with the public.

“After the dictator was brought to justice, Dominicans projected their hopes for democracy onto sports – especially baseball,” explains Dr. Yoder. “They saw sports as a way to educate citizens in democratic principles such as teamwork and sportsmanship, which would help build a better society.”

‘I had a good topic’

Dr. Yoder’s own history with baseball extends as far back as she can remember. Meeting a new classmate from Mexico in the third grade and a particularly inspiring Spanish teacher furthered her fascination with Latin America, and she increasingly became interested in the region’s culture and politics. As an undergraduate student working on her honors thesis, she turned to Latin American literature as a primary source, and that, too, became a topic that increasingly captured her interest.

April Yoder, Ph.D.
April Yoder, Ph.D.

Fascinated by how citizens use popular culture to make political demands on their governments, Dr. Yoder eventually shifted her focus from people’s use of literature to baseball. A minor-league baseball player she met from the Dominican Republic inspired her to begin writing about baseball and politics in that country. He ended up being a terrific teacher who shared his passion for baseball and inspired Dr. Yoder’s work.

While pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Arizona in Tucson, she was drawn to the ballpark, increasingly becoming a fan of the sport and its impact on people. Noticing her interest, one of her master’s thesis advisers pitched the idea that she shift the focus of her academic work from politics and literature to politics and baseball.

“I showed up to class sunburnt after spending mornings at the ballpark in Tucson during Spring Training,” recalls Dr. Yoder. “I resisted my adviser’s suggestion to study baseball for a while, but my interest increased as I learned more about some of the social and political issues around Latin American and, especially, Dominican players and the Dominican Republic.”

By the time she began her doctorate, Dr. Yoder had a good idea of the direction she hoped her research would take. She did some preliminary research after her first year, spending about two months in the Dominican Republic and reading everything she could about baseball. While reading a newspaper from the early 1960s, she discovered several political cartoons and editorials that made the connection between baseball and democracy – a home run, of sorts, for Dr. Yoder, as she narrowed down the focus of her research.

“Democracy was a common topic in editorials in late 1962 because Dominicans were preparing for the first elections after the dictatorship and because the Cuban Missile Crisis, which happened in mid-October, increased fears about communism across Latin America,” she explains. “Seeing that cartoon, and others that connected baseball and democracy, made me confident I had a good topic.”

‘Dominican ownership over baseball’

While living in the Dominican Republic for nearly a year as she completed her research, Dr. Yoder spent evenings watching baseball in ballparks or on television. Her research also brought her to the archives, to Dominican little league events, and to baseball academies – including one operated by the New York Mets. She had the opportunity to speak with a variety of individuals, including scouts, who had firsthand knowledge of the game.

Pitching Democracy: Baseball and Politics in the Dominican Republic.
Pitching Democracy: Baseball and Politics in the Dominican Republic.

While Dr. Yoder’s archival research for her dissertation concluded with what occurred through 1978, she was eager to do more research. She wanted to bring the story about the development of the nation’s baseball industry to the present – and she hoped to do that in a book.

After earning her Ph.D., Dr. Yoder began teaching at the University of New Haven, where she continued to work on her book. She’d write in the mornings and then teach. She also brought her passion for sports into the classroom – and brought her students to the ballpark. Several years ago, she taught a winter-term study-abroad course about Dominican baseball.

“I bring to all my classes my curiosity about how sports and other popular elements shape politics,” she said. “My Sports in Latin America course and versions of the Thinking Historically course, which have focused on the Olympics, sports and politics, and athletes and activism, come directly from my research.”

Dr. Yoder is excited to share her continued research – and her book – with her students, at conferences, and with the general public. She hopes Pitching Democracy changes the discussions among the sports media and baseball fans.

"Too often, our answer to the question of why there are so many Dominican ballplayers in Major League Baseball (MLB) – or U.S. baseball, more broadly centers on economic desperation,” she said. “But that narrative limits Dominicans to roles as players who are looking for a paycheck while ignoring the huge contributions they have made to baseball and its globalization. My book emphasizes Dominican ownership over baseball because I want to challenge the idea that baseball is a U.S. sport that Dominicans play, and that MLB is a U.S. company.”