Jorge Mateo knows these streets, because he grew up running around them. Now, when he walks around, the streets know him.

Every passerby in San Luis, Dominican Republic, is well aware of the boy-turned-hero, the dreamer who made it to the major leagues. Mateo’s family still lives near the town on the outskirts of Santo Domingo, but unlike the large city, San Luis is in a shadow. It’s not a baseball hotbed, even though neighboring areas and the country at large regularly produce talent.

By Mateo’s estimation, he’s one of only two players from San Luis to have made it to the majors. So, each time the Orioles utilityman returns during the offseason, there’s little surprise Mateo’s name is called by those watching, welcoming back the star who has not — and will not — forget where he came from.

“I always see the kids, and some of them come up to me or call me or whatever and make sure to say thank you and things like that,” Mateo said through Orioles team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “Those are the things that always touch me.”

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He was one of those kids once. He knows what it’s like to live in the small suburb that is San Luis, an area Mateo said is full of people with “really good hearts” but is also a “really poor city.”

For several years, Mateo has made it a central focus of his offseason to give back. He holds a holiday donation drive each year, delivering food, athletic gear and toys to families and children in San Luis. He has hosted baseball clinics before.

He made it to the highest level of the sport. Maybe he can help the next kid from San Luis reach the majors, too.

“Jorge is not a superstar, but he is a superstar in that neighborhood, in that town,” said Alex Cotto, Mateo’s agent. “He’s a superstar to them. He takes a lot of pride in that.”

Cotto has a deep understanding of Mateo’s roots. Before Cotto joined QC Sports as the vice president of baseball operations, he scouted Mateo for the New York Yankees in his role as an assistant director of international operations. Mateo signed with the Yankees as a 16-year-old, earning a $250,000 bonus.

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It was a far cry from the sums the top international free agents receive at such an early age, but for his family it was a major achievement. Now he’s a 28-year-old making $2.7 million this season through the arbitration process.

Orioles utilityman Jorge Mateo gives a toy to a child in San Luis, Dominican Republic. Each winter, Mateo hosts a donation drive for his home town. (Photo courtesy Alex Cotto)
Orioles utilityman Jorge Mateo gives a toy to a child in San Luis, Dominican Republic. Each winter, Mateo hosts a donation drive for his hometown. (Photo courtesy Alex Cotto)

Mateo hasn’t forgotten how far he’s come.

When Mateo joined Cotto’s agency, a central factor in agreeing to Cotto’s representation was a commitment to a yearly donation drive in Mateo’s hometown.

“He made it a point that every year he wanted to do something, and he wanted to give back,” Cotto said, adding that companies that sponsor Mateo, such as Adidas, 44 Pro gloves and Guardian Baseball, assist with donations. So do MLB, the players association and the Orioles. “They’ve all donated items and whatnot to help with this effort that Jorge really takes to heart every offseason. It’s been very successful the last four or five years.”

In addition to the baseball gear, Mateo doles out food each holiday season — rice, beans, eggs, poultry — that can last a family for seven to 10 days.

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Mateo’s mother, Reina Rosa, is crucial in planning and orchestrating the event. She grew up in the town, Mateo said, and she “has a real good understanding of who needs things the most.”

When Mateo was 9, he and his family moved out of San Luis to the neighboring town of San Isidro. They hoped for better opportunities there, especially for their son. But he still knows the area well — San Luis and San Isidro are only about two miles apart.

So every return trip to the Dominican Republic includes workouts with his old trainers and time with family and friends. When he’s there, though, he can’t help but think of his childhood.

There was a time when Mateo would’ve been grateful for an extra glove or bat to follow his dreams. Now he can do something about it for the town’s kids.

“That was me. I lived through those moments,” Mateo said. “Growing up, I didn’t have athletic gear. We didn’t have bats or gloves. It was always my mom or my dad who would provide that for me, and oftentimes we had to share bats or share gloves. We didn’t have a person like that in my hometown growing up where they’re able to give us supplies, so that’s why I think now I try to make such an effort to go back and give the kids athletic gear and bats and gloves so they can each have as many of those resources as possible.”

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Jorge Mateo, the Orioles utilityman, poses in his home town of San Luis, Dominican Republic, during a December 2023 donation drive. (Photo courtesy Alex Cotto)
Mateo's home country, the Dominican Republic, is known for producing Major League Baseball players. His hometown is not. (Photo courtesy Alex Cotto)

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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