Nick Heath wants you to come see for yourself - baseball in Santo Domingo is not at all like most games in the United States. “It’s just constant cheering and screaming and ‘you’ve got this.’ [The fans] just really, really support players, but also let you hear it when you don’t do good,” said the Royals outfield prospect. Heath is spending his winter playing in the Dominican Winter League and he has been in awe of the raucous crowds he has seen throughout his first season playing center fielder for the Tigres del Licey.
Heath asked teammates Erick Mejia and Jorge Bonifacio what he was getting himself into before heading to their native Dominican Republic. They tried to explain the atmosphere, but “the impression I got was nothing like actually being here and seeing it for myself,” Heath said.
Contrast that “constant cheering and screaming” with most any regular-season game at any level of pro baseball in the US. This is where Heath chose his words carefully.
“Not to knock fans back home but every game here is like a playoff game game and every game is packed,” said Heath. “I’d kill to have baseball like this in America. Everything in baseball here is a celebration. Why not celebrate what you love and what you’re passionate about, especially when you do something good? The fans thrive off of our energy and I’ve been thriving off of theirs. This is the most fun baseball I’ve ever played in my life.”
Holy s**t... Dominican Republic Winter League baseball is ELECTRIC!! First time I’ve ever NOT been able to hear my teammates yelling at me from 20 feet away. Is this game 7 or just Opening Day?— Nick Heath (@inheathwetrust) October 13, 2019
At age 25 - he turns 26 next Wednesday - Heath is somewhere in the middle of a roster with teammates ranging from age 19 (Elvis Luciano) to 38 (Alfredo Simon). This is the first time his career has taken him outside the country, but the Royals front office thought it would be good for his development to give it a shot. “They said it would be a good learning experience and kind of is the closest thing I’d get to the big leagues in terms of talent,” Heath said.
With the help of bilingual teammates like Mejia and Bonifacio, along with TV subtitles, Heath is working on his Spanish. But beyond vocabulary are some cultural lessons: “I get to see what they come from and why they play the way they play,” Heath said. “Watching them interact with other Latin players is by far the most fun thing ever because they just don’t care. It’s just all about fun and who brings the most energy, and you know I can hang in that category.”
Enjoy I love this team man. It’s something new everyday! pic.twitter.com/bnbIBDXEv4— Nick Heath (@inheathwetrust) November 17, 2019
Plenty of day-to-day life things are different, like showers that run cold and reliable WiFi being hard to find, but Heath said he has found joy in the laid-back, party-loving culture. “There’s a reason to celebrate everything, you know? It’s just really refreshing to get a taste of something different and I truly feel like I belong here.”
The Royals seem to like what they’ve seen out of Heath, an impossibly fast runner who stole 60 bases in 2019 despite missing about three weeks with a couple of injuries. On Wednesday, they added him to the 40-man roster, to prevent another team from snagging him in the upcoming Rule 5 draft.
Through 23 games, Heath is batting .266/.341/.367 for Licey with seven steals in eight attempts. He has this plea for baseball fans stateside: “I would recommend everybody come down here and catch these games, and see the difference in energy between baseball here and baseball back home.”
And then, ideally, bring some of that energy back home.