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Baseball School Aims To Place More Puerto Rican Players In Major Leagues

By Gabrielle Paese

December 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Some of the game's best baseball players have come out of Puerto Rico. Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Alomar, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, Bernie Williams -- this is just a sampling of names of current and future Hall of Famers.

But for every Puerto Rican who makes it to the big show, another estimated 50 fall through the cracks.

Puerto Rico national team star pitcher Jose "Cano"Velez said he thinks that talent is the main reason Puerto Rico's all-amateur team won the gold medal at the recently concluded Central American-Caribbean Games, despite facing lineups with pros from Panama and Venezuela.

"There are a lot of players with major league potential in Puerto Rico that the scouts have missed," said Velez this week.

Former Texas Rangers pitcher Edwin Correa agrees and he's out to change the numbers.

It's been more than a decade since Puerto Ricans were lumped together in the stateside player's draft. By contrast, the Dominican Republic and Venezuelan players enter organized baseball through a foreign draft. The result: There are an estimated 700 Dominican players in the minor leagues, versus 150 Puerto Ricans.

The separate drafts has also opened the doors for major league teams to set up baseball academies in the Dominican Republic, where they comb the country for talent, mold it and ship it into their franchise. Given the country's economic problems, baseball becomes a way out of poverty for young kids.

Puerto Ricans, on the other hand, have to compete for spots in the ballclubs along with players from all over the United States, many of whom benefit from organized high school baseball programs as well as summer club programs.

Puerto Rico's public school system does not offer baseball on a state level. High school students get noticed in Puerto Rico because big league scouts watch American Legion, Connie Mack, Little League and Puerto Rico's Superior League junior program.

According to Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of operations for Major League Baseball, Puerto Rico's system makes it tough for the scouts to even find the talent.

Enter Correa and his Puerto Rico Baseball Academy High School.

Alderson and other major league baseball officials were in Caguas this week to check out the school. They are reportedly interested in helping out both financially and by allowing Correa use of organized baseball's resources."We've been very impressed with what we've seen so far,"said Alderson, who made the trip with along with Lou Meléndez, vice president of Latin American operations, and academic consultant Donald Odderman.

"Edwin came to New York to talk with us about this concept and he's gone a long way toward demonstrating it,"said Alderson during a guided tour of the school's facilities on the University of Turabo campus. "We’re in the process right now of determining ways we can helpful. We’re looking at financial support as well as various in-kind types of support. Next week we'll be sending a groundskeeper, someone we use internationally to take a look at the fields and give Edwin suggestions."

Alderson said this is the first such program of its kind. He stressed that PRBAHS is different from the Dominican academies because it offers a college prep program whereas the D.R. schools concentrate solely on the sport, with a conversational English class thrown in for good measure."This is exciting because it's the first academy of its kind that has the goal of developing pro players but also offers education," said Alderson.

"We're in the process right now of developing an academy in the United States, and there's already one in Australia but it does not operate on a year-round basis.‰Meléndez said that it’s not unusual for major league baseball to extend support to players at the high school level."We have a program called the Tomorrow Fund, which already helps three programs in Puerto Rico,"said Meléndez.

Correa, a former Texas Rangers pitcher, said the school's operating budget is about $1 million. The school has been up and running for four months now and currently serves 105 students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades. Correa said the school will admit just 25 new students next year and 100 in 2004."We already have a waiting list of some 700 students,"said Correa.

Big leaguers Juan González, Carlos Delgado, Luis Lopez and Alex and Joey Cora have all made generous donations to get the school started, Correa said. The University of Turabo has ceded the school to use its facilities and the town of Gurabo has donated 50 acres for the future construction of playing fields, which Correa hopes to break ground on as early as next year.

The school is private, although 70 of its students are public school transfers and 45 study as part of a grant program from the cities of Caguas and Guayama. Tuition is about $150 monthly, by Correa's estimate."It's a private school, but in terms of cost it's much more reasonable than other private schools, although we are aware that it's still out of reach for many,"said Correa, who estimates that Puerto Rico has 15,400 teenagers (ages 15-17) playing organized baseball. "I did this because I saw the need. Since 1990 when I began as a coach for the Dodgers I saw how Puerto Rico needed a school like this. For me it's a chance to give back a little to Puerto Rico."

Correa is also hopeful that MLB will ditch its current draft system in favor of a much talked about world draft, meaning that the Dominicans and Venezuelans would no longer enter directly into major league baseball. He said he's hoping that all international players will have to compete against each other for spots, which will make the competition more equal in his eyes.

Clemente exhibit to open at Puerto Rico Art Museum

What's an exhibit devoted to an athlete doing in an art museum? That might be the question many will ask on Sunday when HOME: A celebration of Roberto Clemente opens at the art museum in San Juan.

The fact is, the exhibit, with plenty of memorabilia, but decidedly more high-brow than a collector's trade show, will help bring art to the masses who might otherwise not set foot in a museum.

The collection, which was put together by Carimar's Jorge Carbonell and Nestor Barreto with curator Elliott Castro, is an eclectic mix of art and memorabilia that illustrates perfectly to what extent Clemente has become a legend.

On display to coincide with the 30th anniversary of his tragic death in a plane crash while taking relief supplies to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua, the exhibit came together thanks to contributions from both private collectors and the Clemente family.

"It makes me very happy to see this exhibit because it covers the cultural as well as sports angle," said dona Vera Zabala, Clemente's widow. "For the students, it's also a unique opportunity to appreciate his awards, live and his legacy."

The exhibit will remain on display in the museum through May of 2003. For more information, click on the museum's website, .

Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at

Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.

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