Baseball Academy a hit in Puerto Rico
Sixty-two players drafted since school opened in 2001
From Major League legends like Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda to current stars like Ivan Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran, the history of baseball in Puerto Rico runs deep.
Edwin Correa is doing his part to make sure the sport's legacy doesn't run dry. Started in 2001, Correa's Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School was created to give high school players on the island the opportunity to become better players and receive high school diplomas. What it has developed into over the years is more than Correa could have ever imagined.
"It has surpassed all of my expectations," Correa said. "It's something I knew could happen if we worked step by step to accomplish things, but I am so proud of what has happened here."
In all, 62 players from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School have been selected in Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft since the school's inception, and 44 have signed professional contracts. Every graduate not playing professional baseball has gone on to attend college or a university in Puerto Rico or the United States, Correa said.
The average graduating class at the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School is between 55-70 students a year. There are thousands on the school's waiting list.
The success of Correa's school comes at a critical time for the island. The number of Puerto Rican players in the Major Leagues has steadily diminished since the commonwealth became subject to the First-Year Player Draft in 1989. Last season, there were 29 Puerto Rican players on Major League rosters on Opening Day, which was third on the list for foreign-born players behind the Dominican Republic (88) and Venezuela (52).
"The lack of players being developed in Puerto Rico is evident, not only playing baseball, but in the small number of children that desire to play baseball," said Lou Melendez, Major League Baseball's vice president of international baseball operations. "The kids in Puerto Rico are like those in the U.S. and they have other activities to engage in, so the sport of baseball is competing."
"Edwin's school has been a godsend," Melendez continued. "First, it provides an education for those that want to go play and study. On top of that, from a baseball standpoint, the school has had over 40 kids drafted by MLB over the last five or six years."
Located in the city of Gurabo, the 25,000-square foot building that houses the school includes a cafeteria, gym, hitting tunnel, administration offices and several classrooms for the 400 students, grades 7-12. Students are selected via a tryout, and after an academic and psychological exam. There are 65 employees working for Correa at the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School.
Baseball is the priority, but the lessons learned off the field are as vital as those learned on it, Correa said.
"It's important that they become good human beings, have discipline," he said. "They have to understand that through baseball they can achieve a career. You can be a player or an engineer, but you are educated. You have a choice."
Correa's next challenge is securing land for a multi-field complex for the students. The school recently acquired a state-of-the-art hitting machine called the ProBatter Professional Baseball PX2 pitching simulator that allows a hitter to face the life-sized image of a pitcher delivering a pitch on a video screen. An actual baseball is thrown through a small hole in the screen at a variety of speeds and locations.
"It's helped many kids work on their mechanics and staying back in the box and balance," Correa said. "It's the closest thing to pitching so they develop that much faster. The kids are having fun and at the same time learning a lot."
It's not all fun and games. Correa knows his students represent a part of the future of baseball in Puerto Rico. All 44 former students playing professional baseball participate in the island's Winter League. The league is back after a one-year hiatus caused by various financial problems.
"It's our national pastime," Correa said. "We want to expand to the whole island and revive baseball in Puerto Rico. We used to have so many stars in the game and now it's less and less. What we do here is a little piece of the puzzle to get back to where we were before."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.