D-backs’ student-athlete program in Dominican Republic graduates latest class

It is more than a grind for baseball players who are hoping to break through and get to the Major League, but you have to start somewhere. That is why the Arizona Diamondbacks, which has minor league teams in places such as Reno, Nevada; Visalia, California; and Missoula, Montana, is helping to develop the next generation of possible baseball legends abroad with its educational development program in the Dominican Republic.

The team’s fifth-annual high school graduation at its baseball academy in Boca Chica, DR, which took place recently, celebrated the achievement of 10 local high school kids with hopes of making the Major League.

“Our goal is to create a culture of student-athletes and player’s participation in program that also help them adjust to life as a professional baseball player, and life after their playing careers,” Mariana Patraca, the D-backs’ Latin Operations Assistant, said. “We are engaged with our players and coaches offering an educational program so they can be prepared not just for baseball, but also for life.”

Major League Baseball currently has around 850 active players spread throughout its 30 professional teams. Pitchers, catchers, outfielders, backup shortstops, etc. But this is just counting those in “The Show,” and not the thousands of hopefuls who line the dugouts of the 256 minor league baseball teams in towns like Modesto, California, Wilmington, Delaware, or Idaho Falls, Idaho. Among those 850-or-so players in the MLB, nearly a quarter were born outside of the United States, and most of those players come from the Dominican Republic.

This program does put a focus on helping students make it through high school successfully, but also gives them hope of getting picked up for contracts by professional teams. So far, 36 graduates have completed the program in its five-year run.  It also has an 8th grade graduation program. Coaches who did not finish high school and instead entered into the minor league system to find a way out of poverty can also enroll in the program.

“In the Latin culture, and especially in the Dominican Republic, people see baseball as a way to escape poverty, so you see kids dropping [out of] school at 12 or 14 to dedicate 100% of their time to practice and prepare themselves to sign with a team,” Patraca said.

The program was born out of D-backs President and CEO Derrick Hall’s promise to Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina that his team would offer the country’s youth a unique education. Those in the program who stop pursuing baseball as a career or are not a part of the D-backs organization can still have their education covered.

“We are constantly exploring ways and options for more improvements in the program. The nature of minor leagues is having players moving up and going from one affiliate to another, so we are trying to incorporate technology and its advantages to our programs,” adds Patraca.

Those currently in the program work with tutors and attend school at least twice a week while they continue to sharpen their baseball skills. While the players study and practice in the Dominican Republic, they live in dorm-style housing above the building where they study, which overlooks two baseball fields. They can stay fit in the attached weight room and eat provided meals in the cafeteria.

Nick Esquer

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