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MONTE CRISTI, Dominican Republic A patch of asphalt in the middle of the jungle is the field of dreams for a group of little boys in the Dominican Republic.

News 8 found six-year-old Rafael Enrisque leading a group of barefoot children in a game of baseball on a Sunday afternoon near the town of Monte Cristi, where Texas Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz grew up.

We practice! Rafael shouts. We have good practice so we can learn to hit the ball hard.

The children are so poor they can't afford real baseballs so they make them.

Holding the ball proudly, Rafael says, My grandmother made it with rubber, a little rock, a stocking and then she sewed it.

That crude ball may just be the way out of extreme poverty for the little boy who told us he wants to be a Major League Baseball player.

I love baseball, Rafael said.

On the streets in poor neighborhoods is how

Many now-famous baseball players started playing on the streets of poor neighborhoods in the Dominican Republic, including Texas Rangers Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre, Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz.

I did it when I was little, Feliz told News 8 during the World Series. I would make baseballs out of stockings, use a stick... whatever was available on the streets. I played with gloves made out of cardboard. Anything to play baseball.

Baseball is everything for a country where 60 percent of the people live under the poverty level.

We love this game, Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said. We have a lot of heart and we care about the game. That's probably why a lot of people... why a lot of guys from the Dominican... are so good at it. We love the game.

There is pressure for parents to make their children into baseball stars. They take their children out of school and put them in special baseball schools where that's all they learn.

If they don't succeed, mom and dad get the blame.

It's the parents' fault, said Pappo Ventura, 75, who has lived in Monte Cristi his entire life. Instead of enrolling their kids they just leave them in the streets. That's why they don't' make it.

Since 1956, more than 550 players from the Dominican Republic have played in the Major Leagues. But the rags-to-riches stories don't always end in fame and fortune.

Just ask Juan Carlos, who said he played three years with the Atlanta Braves organization.

I made a lot of money, but I drank too much, Carlos conceded.

Carlos said the road from poverty to success often leads right back home. Players are ill-prepared for American life.

Carlos fame and fortune are gone. He has no job and no money.

Nothing, he said.

Raul Rivas said he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He, too, said there's nothing left.

Luck... that's how baseball is, he said. We can't all make it. Just a few of us. That's just baseball.

Still, it is the dream and their love of baseball that keeps children like Raphael hoping to bat their way to a better life.

E-mail rlopez@wfaa.com

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