MANAGUA – For hundreds of Nicaraguan boys who dream of someday playing Major League Baseball in the United States, the long road to The Show started last Friday with the opening tryout for American College, the country’s first integral baseball academy.
Founded by former Major League pitching great Dennis “El Presidente” Martínez, Nicaragua’s most celebrated baseball talent of all time, American College aims to groom the country’s best young talent into future Big League stars.
THE academy, modeled after similar programs in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, will become the new home of 150 selected players from around the country, teaching baseball fundamentals on the field, and English and high-school courses off the field.
The academy plans to send scouts to different rural regions of the country to search for the best of the best and offer them scholarships to school.
The goal is to get most – if not all – of the first class to enroll at the academy signed with a Major League club in the next five years.
The academy staff will act as agents for the young players, and those not picked up by a professional organization will have received a full highschool education to
fall back on.
“MY hope is to get ahead in my studies and my baseball. I’m sure I will get picked for the academy,” said 14-year-old Yasser Camacho, a left-handed pitcher from Cuidad Sandino.
Other teenagers share Camacho’s enthusiasm, each with hopes of someday getting drafted by their favorite Big League club.
William Castro, a 17-year-old third baseman from Masaya, sat on the edge of the visitor’s dugout and dreamed of someday putting on a Cleveland Indian’s uniform.
Jonathan Cienfuegos, a shy 14-year-old, said he hopes to someday play shortstop for the Florida Marlins.
AMERICAN College is being funded by a $500,000 start-up grant from the Nicaraguan business sector. The money is going toward construction of a new baseball stadium, classrooms and a dormitory on land outside Managua donated by the government.
Efforts are underway to court a Major League Baseball team to foot the future bill for operations by adopting the academy as part of its minor league “Rookie Class” franchise.
Several Major League scouts have already expressed interest in visiting the academy to watch the second national tryout in June, and former baseball greats Andre “The Hawk” Dawson and Ozzie Smith are scheduled to visit with the young players in the coming months, according to program organizers.
“TODAY is a great day for our country,” Martínez told a group of 250 young, baseball players at the Dennis Martínez National Baseball Stadium for the April 16 tryout.
“Through the academy and sports, you can do something in society. You will have the chance to study and learn about other cultures through international play. Most importantly, this academy is about human development,” he said.
Martínez acknowledged that half of the Major League hopefuls would be cut by the end of the day, but urged them not to give up and to come back in the future to try out again.
“Come back and prove us wrong for cutting you the first time,” Martínez encouraged.
THE baseball school has the full blessing of Nicaragua President Enrique Bolaños, who attended the tryout to throw out the ceremonial first pitch and offer words of support.
“We hope soon to have hundreds of Nicaraguans in the Major League system and several dozen playing for Big League clubs,” Bolaños said, adding that the academy is a great opportunity to help young Nicaraguans find high-paying jobs in the United States.
The President noted that similar academies in the Dominican Republic have enjoyed enormous success in past years, having paved the way for hundreds of islanders to break into Major League Baseball. About 600 Dominicans play professional ball in the United States, 79 in the Big League clubs.
IN comparison, about 20 Nicaraguans play minor league baseball in the United States, and only one, pitcher Vicente Padilla of the Philadelphia Phillies, currently plays in the Majors. Nicaraguan utility player Marvin Benard, who enjoyed several decent years with the San Francisco Giants, was dropped by the Chicago White Sox during spring training last month after he tested positive for steroid use.
Nicaragua has long been a breeding ground for natural baseball talent, but a lack of funding for youth development has deterred many players from reaching their potential.
AmericanCollege hopes to change that.
MANY of the staff members are former professional players from the Nicaraguan league who understand how important it is to give kids with talent a chance.
Academy hitting coach Ariel Delgado said he is eager to help kids work on their swings and teach them the values of baseball.
Delgado, who retired last year after a long career with León, Boer and Chinandega, is one of Nicaragua’s best all-time hitters, topping the country’s record books in hits, runs-batted-in and homeruns.
While the road to the Majors is long and hard for even the most talented players, the new Nicaraguan academy is seen as an important step toward leveling the playing field for its youth.