Mets Successes Continue in the Dominican Republic
Every kid grows up looking to one day walk into a Major League clubhouse and get all geared up for their first big league game. Once they reach the bigs, their dream has come true and it’s a dream they hope will never end. It’s been like this ever since baseball came to the United States in the 1800s. Baseball spiraled around Latin America and the Caribbean in the latter parts of the 1800s. With that being said, we didn’t see a Hispanic ballplayer until the 1900s. But when Hispanics finally broke through, it changed the game we all love forever.
Since then, Latinos have taken over – from legends like Roberto Clemente and Juan Marichal, or even more recently Pedro Martinez, Mariano Rivera and Ivan Rodriguez to current superstars like Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Robinson Cano or upcoming stars like Jose Fernandez, Carlos Correa and so on. They are all major contributors to their teams’ current successes and some of them are the game’s best at their respective positions. We continue to see growth in talent and all the incredible talent that comes from Latin countries, but none of us get to see how they got here.
Even though the MLB has done a better job every year at integrating international prospects to the MLB, the New York Mets truly have a leg up on many organizations when it comes to international signings. I had the opportunity to work as an intern for the Mets at their Dominican Republic Academy. One academy, one common dream, many players fighting for limited spots. All the ballplayers from the academy came from the Dominican Republic or other Latin countries – Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua and others. And for each of them, this is their meal ticket. It’s the only way to support their families.
The Mets academy in the Dominican Republic is one of a kind. $8 million has been invested into this state of the art facility. The complex houses roughly 80 to 90 players, coaches and staff—it even houses Ozzie Virgil Sr. (the first Dominican to play in Major League Baseball). It has 3 perfectly maintained fields, a spectacular gym, and an incredible trainers room that sets the players on path for instant success. But the Mets go beyond all of that by having coaches who become father figures to the players, and trainers who take care of them like no other. The ultimate goal is to develop the young athletes to the top of their game and maximize their potential. Rafael Landestoy takes it one step further and turns these sixteen to twenty-five year old kids into men.
There are three “seasons” during one year at the academy: Spring Instructional League, Dominican Summer League and Dominican Winter Ball, and during each season, the academy pumps out top athletes and continues to tune them to the top of their abilities. Baseball is year-round, and for the ballplayers, this means the world. Many of them come from high poverty areas. Most players leave school very early on in order to focus on baseball, and as a result, some have no more than a second grade education. This is where the Mets excel. They take these talented young men and teach them that life goes beyond baseball. After practice or games, the players have to attend mandatory English and culture class or a general education class.
These classes are designed to teach the prospects English so they can have an easier time communicating while in America. Aside from English, they are taught how to deal with every day American culture encounters—from restaurants, hotels, banks, all the way to airports and security. American laws both written laws and ethical customs are both discussed. It gives the players a better sense of America and how to deal with any encounter whenever a situation arises.
The Mets academy has shown success. Jeurys Familia, Hansel Robles, and Juan Lagares have all come out of the academy. Each athlete takes this opportunity given to him as a blessing. As Major League Baseball continues to expand internationally, Latin America is clearly a goldmine for top stars and in years to come, we hope to see the young Hispanic talent continue to excel.