Major League Baseball has moved towards providing quality education for prospects in the Dominican Republic, recently unveiling a program designed to improve reading, writing, critical thinking and English skills, many of the same skills being advocated by the Dominican Republic Sports & Education Academy for years.Seven teams have signed up for the 20-week pilot program that starts next month, with prospects receiving at least nine hours of instruction each week, according to Rafael Perez, director of MLB operations in the Dominican Republic, who explained that if successful, the program could become league-wide in Latin America.
“We at Major League Baseball care about the prospects going to school; it is just the right thing to do,” Perez told MLB.com. “We are also helping released players and giving them a chance to finish school, get a technical career and learn English. There are opportunities.
“Our research identified that, unfortunately, the Dominican Republic has a very strong deficiency in their public schools because of the infrastructure, methodology and the deficiency among the teachers and hours in school, and as a result the players, as well as the general population among a certain age, have a deficiency in reading comprehension and deficiencies in math. In the end, that’s one of the main reasons our players have a problem learning a second language. The program is about facing those challenges.
“Every club wants to have their own program, and we cannot tell a club how to develop its players because ultimately it’s their decision on what they feel is best for them, but we do want to provide a framework of a program. Being a good baseball player is no different than being a good executive in terms of understanding what you are supposed to do and executing. It’s ultimately about giving the prospects the foundation to help them make good decisions in order to learn and succeed at the game.”
The DRSEA has been encouraging the adoption and implementation of such a program for years. Back in 2000, when I led a delegation to the Dominican Republic at the behest of Major League Baseball to take a look at academy conditions, I concluded in a report to MLB that education needed to be fundamental, so I applaud baseball for taking steps now to introduce education into its academies.
Here are some of the education aspects the DRSEA has been advocating:
- Communication Skills: Many of the young players in the academies not only don’t speak English, they also have poor Spanish language skills. I think a goal needs to be to improve the language competency of those athletes who lack adequate proficiency and to improve interpersonal communications skills. And while developing English language skills is desirable, I think it needs to be “Baseball English” that goes beyond language of the diamond, but also language they can use in everyday life – like how to order in a restaurant, purchase clothes or groceries, ask directions, and the like.
- Critical Thinking: These are young teenagers who suddenly are in positions of tremendous responsibility, often with the hopes and dreams of their families resting on their shoulders. They need to develop skills in conceptualizing, analyzing, evaluating and applying information that they are exposed to, to make them better able to handle a multitude of decisions that will be coming their way as they mature. People who think critically tend to use their intellectual tools to approach life decisions rationally and reasonably. Also, given that baseball is such a cognitive sport, it will improve their chances of success in the game.
- Financial Planning: In a very short period, these young athletes often find themselves with lucrative signing bonuses and professional contracts, totally unprepared to manage their new riches. Lack of guidance, misuse of funds, and poor investment decisions have led many players literally to the poorhouse. They need to learn money management, savings and investment options.
- Computer Skills: If you don’t know your way on the information highway you are going to find yourself on an off ramp to nowhere. Computer skills are essential today. Computers can also supplement other factors in any education initiative since many language and other helpful programs are available by computer. Internet familiarity is also important.
- Life Skills: Many young athletes are quickly introduced to the fast-paced lifestyle of professional sports without the proper life skills to deal with the pace and pressures. They may also be unfamiliar with the rules of social comportment. They need to learn to cope with their new standard of living and how to avoid potential pitfalls. They need to learn survival skills such as time management, anger management, health and nutrition, the evils of drugs, alcohol and gambling, anti-exploitation, and maybe even things like basic cooking and how to do laundry.
- Options After Baseball: The vast majority of prospects in Dominican academies will never play in the major leagues. And even those who do will inevitably be faced with a time when they must hang up their cleats. Players need to learn about options after baseball, both in the sports industry and outside. They also need to be taught about understanding the Major League system, about contracts, legal terms and obligations. They need to learn long-term financial planning, budgeting and personal organization.
The majority of these suggestions were included in the report I made to Major League Baseball 13 years ago. Now, a quality educational initiative finally appears to be on its way.