Beltran's academy offers hope for youths
School in Puerto Rico set to open in August
FLORIDA, Puerto Rico -- It's tryout day at Rafael Marrero Stadium, and there's a teenager roaming center field who moves just like Carlos Beltran.
The boy is wearing a blue Mets cap and mostly white pants, and he appears to glide when he runs. His orange Mets jersey flaps in the wind when he chases down a fly ball.
An image of Beltran can be spotted at first base, too. But this Carlos is taller and bulkier. He's wearing a Dodgers jersey and blue socks. The young man pops the catcher's mitt every time he throws home during infield practice.
Just like the other 24 boys on the field at this municipal stadium, the first baseman is trying to make an impression.
The real Beltran is there, too, standing behind a net screen near home plate holding a clipboard in one hand and a radar gun in the other. The Mets outfielder has been working for seven years to create the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy for the youth of Puerto Rico, and his dream will be realized in August when construction is complete and the school opens.
The goal of the nonprofit academy is to provide a place where young players in grades 10-12 can develop their baseball skills and achieve academic excellence. Beltran contributed $2 million to the project. The land was donated by the local government.
"All I am doing is creating opportunities for kids that are like me," Beltran said. "We came from humble families, and we've struggled to come up. These kids are a reflection of me and who I was and who I am. What I'm trying to do is motivate them to continue to stay in sports and continue to study in school. My satisfaction comes from seeing these kids be able to accomplish their dreams."
Located on 20 acres of land near Puerto Rico's Highway 22 and just off Avenida Heriberto Gonzalez Velez in the municipality of Florida, the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy will have classrooms, a computer center, a language laboratory and housing for 180 students from across the island. Using a bilingual curriculum, the student-to-teacher ratio for each classroom is expected to be 25-to-1.
"Carlos is realizing his dream of giving back to Puerto Rico and its youth," said Lou Melendez, Major League Baseball's vice president of international baseball operations. "The academy will provide both a high school education and an elite baseball program that will enable its students to attend college, play baseball and, more importantly, become good citizens of Puerto Rico."
In addition to the use of Rafael Marrero Stadium, the 50,000-square-foot facility will have a baseball field, indoor and outdoor batting cages, pitching mounds, a swimming pool, a track and a gym. Beltran said the student lockers will be similar to those found in big league clubhouses, and he expects Major League stars such as Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado, Pedro Martinez and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar to speak to the students and offer instruction. He also hopes his facility will serve as place for other Puerto Ricans in the Majors to train during the offseason.
All candidates for the academy are interviewed, must pass a baseball tryout and perform well on an academic exam. They must be eligible for high school level studies and have a minimum GPA of 2.5.
"Being able to be a part of something like this is more important than any award I can win at the Major League level," Beltran said. "I can't compare this to anything. Why? Baseball is something I can play 15 or 18 years, but this is something that will be here until I die. I'm going to spend a lot of time here."
Beltran conducts the tryouts himself, saying he is involved in every decision involving the academy. It's also a family effort. Noelia Lugo, the outfielder's sister-in-law, is the executive administrator. His brother throws batting practice. Beltran's wife, Jessica, is the unofficial photographer. Beltran's close friends help out in the concession stand.
Several scouts, including Boston scout Edgar Perez and Milwaukee scout Manny Batista, are among the many volunteers. Delgado has visited the academy twice.
"Guys like me, Delgado and Pudge didn't have this. Roberto Clemente didn't have this. Orlando Cepeda didn't have this," Beltran said. "These kids can be better than us. My goal is to have at least two first-round picks in the Draft every year. One of our goals is to have more Puerto Ricans represented at the Major League level. We used to be on top."
The number of Major League players from Puerto Rico has declined in the last decade, despite the emergence of the Molina brothers (Bengie, Jose and Yadier), Beltran, Javier Vazquez, Alex Rios and Alex Cora. There were 21 players from Puerto Rico for the upcoming season's Opening Day rosters, 17 fewer than in 2002.
"I really believe that in five years we can return the island to what it was if we develop the talent," Perez said. "The talent is here, and with what Carlos is doing, we can be back. This is part of the solution."
In the meantime, the tryouts for the first class of the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy will continue. Beltran plans to attend as many as possible before he reports to Spring Training with the Mets later this month.
"I feel like I have learned a lot in my life, and I always have been a giving person," Beltran said. "Maybe they don't all have the tools scouts are looking for right now, but these same kids can earn scholarships and go to good colleges. That's good for Puerto Rico."