Luis Polonia is known for his rewarding career of 30 years as a professional baseball player. Playing for five World Series teams, he helped the Atlanta Braves in 1995 and the New York Yankees in 2000 bring home World Series Championships.
Polonia was born in Pueblo Nuevo, Dominican Republic. His father wanted to be a baseball player and inspired Polonia to follow his dream of playing baseball. His father worked with him and gave him tips daily to improve his skills. In our interview, Polonia talks about how his father had trouble making it in the big leagues because of his height. He recalls the obstacles he faced since he’s only 5’8’’ and baseball teams were looking for players around 6 feet tall.
He started his career at 19, making a name for himself playing baseball in the Dominican Republic, which eventually led to his election into the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame. Because of his skill and determination, Polonia was signed in 1984 as a free agent to Oakland, and after working hard for three years, he was officially drafted into the MLB in 1987 to play for the Oakland Athletics.
Throughout the course of Polonia’s twelve seasons in the MLB, he played for the Oakland Athletics, California Angels, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, and Detroit Tigers, assisting two of his teams in World Series Championships and playing in several World Series games. He also had the opportunity to play baseball in Mexico for three years during his contract with Tampa Bay. In 2000, he retired from the MLB after a shoulder injury.
Luis Polonia’s baseball idol was Ricky Henderson, one of the greatest players in MLB history. He followed Henderson’s career since he was a child and wanted to emulate his abilities through his own career.
In our interview, he said this of Henderson: “That was my role model, a player I wanted to become. We had [similarities] as a player: short, good hitter, base-stealer—and that was what I wanted to become.” When Polonia first started his career, he would never imagine that one day, he would get traded for his idol, Ricky Henderson. However, that dream came true when Luis Polonia went to the New York Yankees in 1990.
Some of Polonia’s biggest accomplishments during his MLB career include being signed to the Major Leagues, being traded to the Yankees and having the pin-stripe uniform, making it to the World Series three times, and being traded for his idol Ricky Henderson. One of the most rewarding parts of his career was that he was able to “open up the doors for the small guys” after the Major Leagues took a chance on him and was able to see what he could do despite his height.
Polonia loved playing for his favorite team, the Yankees, but he recalls how playing for the Angels was when he felt most free and less pressure to play how he wanted to play.
He talks about how he loved traveling and experiencing as many different teams as he could but moving and adjusting to new places was difficult at times. He said, “I would love to just play on one team like I did in the Dominican, twenty-seven years with the Aguilas, but unfortunately things don’t work like that here. But I enjoy going every place I play, and I don’t regret it.”
After retiring from the Major Leagues, he went back to the Dominican Republic where he started his own baseball academy, the Polonia Baseball Training Center. Since the academy first opened 21 years ago, 77 players have been signed and 8 of them made it to the MLB. Polonia is the hitting coach for the team he once played for in the Dominican Republic, the Aguilas Cibaeñas.
When asked about his future, he discusses his next baseball goals as a coach, “I would love to be a coach and work on one of the teams I played [for] before. I do want to get back to the game in the United States, probably one of the teams that I played for, that I know, that recognizes what I can do. It would be nice to be back in one of those uniforms again.”
Looking back on his career, Polonia discusses how thankful he is that he had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful country of America and raise his seven kids here, two of which followed his dream of being baseball players. This incredible athlete gives great advice to anyone wanting to make it as a baseball player. To be a great player, he states that it’s a mindset— planning, dedicating yourself to your craft, and preparing for every possible situation on the field. “You need to keep focus, work hard, and dedicate yourself to your game,” he said.
“Don’t give up when all this is hard. First, it’s hard to get signed, then it’s hard to get to the Major Leagues. Well, believe me, if you got your dream and you work for it you can get it,” he continues, “because there’s no one in this world who went through so much things to make it than Luis Polonia. And I think if I did, you know, I think anyone else can also. You just have to be focused, you just have to work for it, and don’t let nobody get you down.”