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Dorm rooms, computer rooms, English classes and a mess hall. This sounds a lot like college life, with one exception — in college, athletics are an elective. Here, they’re the focus.
The Astros officially opened their brand new Latin American Home in the Dominican Republic on Monday, a ceremony attended by a large portion of the front office staff, including owner Drayton McLane, general manager Ed Wade and president of baseball operations Tal Smith.
Such facilities in the past have been called “academies,” but the newly coined phrase “home” is probably more appropriate, considering Latin American ballplayers don’t come here only to hone their baseball skills. They also learn to get along in a country they hope to someday call home — the United States, “home” to Major League Baseball.
The Astros’ nine-person traveling party was given a grand tour of the new facility, which houses approximately 35 players and, if all goes as planned, will provide a bridge between two areas rich with baseball talent and the big leagues. Players living at the Latin American Home are from the Dominican and Venezuela and were signed as teenagers. The majority of the roster consists of talent no older than age 20.
Ed Wade addresses players in the clubhouse. His comments were interpreted by Felix Francisco.
They’ll play baseball approximately 10 months out of the year, and along the way, they’ll learn life skills during extensive English lessons that take place in both classrooms and a state-of-the-art computer lab.
Dorm rooms line the top floor of the facility. There are 16 player rooms, with four players bunking per room. The computer room has 15 work stations and internet access, and will help to enhance learning, English-speaking skills while also giving often homesick players an easy way to communicate with their families.
Wade in a dorm room.
The complex consists of 2 1/2 fields and is located a half-mile from the new Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles facilities. Those fields are located in close proximity to dozens of other academies opened in recent years by nearly every big league club.
After receiving the grand tour from Astros Player Development Coordinator Allen Rowin, McLane was duly impressed with the state-of-the-art facility.
“I’m overwhelmed,” McLane said. “I’d seen pictures, I saw the plans a year and a half ago and it turned out much better than I even anticipated. It’s a credit to the construction industry here in the Dominican that they can accomplish this in such a short period of time and of the high quality that it is.”
Several Dominican dignitaries attended the ceremony, including Minister of Sports Felipe Payano. Former Astro Moises Alou, who enjoyed tremendous success during his four years with the club and who is one of the best players to come from the Dominican Republic, was also present.
Moises Alou, Astros head of security Angel Zayas and Asst. GM Dave Gottfried
Another special surprise was the appearance of Epy Guererro, best-known for being the pioneer of Astros Dominican scouting several decades ago and who signed Cesar Cedeno in the 1960s.
The months-long planning process to get to this day was largely due to the work of Rowin, Julio Linares (long-time special assistant) and Felix Francisco, the club’s Director of Latin American Scouting. The process to open the facility began about two years ago, when the Astros decided to close their Venezuelan Academy, upgrade their facility in the Dominican and start a Gulf Coast team in the States.
The goal? Sign better players, bring them to the States when they’re still young and accelerate their path to the big leagues. The more advanced Dominican players will go straight to the GCL, where they’ll find a more even competition level and won’t be pushed to the next level in Greeneville before they’re ready.
The Astros found that players who “graduated” from the Venezuelan Academy were more prepared for life in the States than others who did not. Now players will converge together in the Dominican to start the process in a brand-new facility that offers the comforts of home with top-notch baseball instruction.
“I think it’s an attraction to get more players into our organization, because the new facility plays a role in it,” Wade said. “But once they get here, the fact that we have 2 1/2 fields to work on from a physical standpoint is very important, but also from the standpoint of nutrition, English classes and everything involved trying to create a whole person from the kids that are here, we’ve got everything right here.”
More images from the facility:
The building includes replica championship banners that hang at Minute Maid Park.
Players can relax in this gameroom.
Ceremonial first pitch: Felipe Payano, Drayton McLane.
Ribbon cutting: Wade, McLane, Payano, Francisco.
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