When most of us look at that list of July 2 signings, we aren’t really thinking about what happens for that player at that point. Personally, I’m looking at rankings, trying to find video, and reading profiles on those guys. There is a long and grueling road ahead for those guys if they want to make it to play stateside. Add in that only about 35% to 40% of those guys who sign actually make it to the United States.
Let’s be honest. Baseball is a business and international signings are part of that business. If an international player is physically ready to play, he is going to come to the US regardless of where he is academically. However, teams put systems into place to try to prepare these young men for what they might experience in the States. The players can play for up to four years at the academies in the Dominican Summer League. If they have not received a call up during that period, then they can no longer play in the DSL. The league is designed for international players, so there are players from various countries throughout Latin America (Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Mexico, Curacao, etc.) and other parts of the world (Europe, Australia). In short, if a player signs on July 2 when he is 16 years old, he will begin practicing and working out with a team for the remainder of that season. If he plays in games during that season, he will have that season and three additional seasons to receive his call up. So, in reality, a Latin player can be 20 or 21 years old and be considered over the hill as a baseball player.
Now, let’s focus on how the Royals help their guys. Several years ago, the Royals hired Jeff Diskin to put into place a curriculum for their Latin guys. Jeff is a former high school administrator and middle school English teacher and came up with a multitude of ideas for programs which are absolutely fantastic. Think about the options available for kids growing up in the United States. Most go to high school or get their GED. While in high school they have options for dual credits, AP classes, and concurrent enrollments. There are scholarships when they enroll in a trade school or university, or they can go straight into the workforce. For the international kids that are signed to play professional baseball, they are done with education and have entered the workforce. That job is to play baseball. The Royals and Jeff make sure these players aren’t done with their education.
These athletes are not student-athletes, they are athlete-students. We will just focus on the Dominican Republic at the Royals Academy. These kids have baseball practice and individual development almost every day they are at the academy. One thing that is different in the DR is that prior to signing, the focus is on the development of individual tools. For most of these young players from Latin America, they have not had a lot of exposure to team fundamentals such as bunt defenses, pick-off plays, relays and cut-offs. The professional teams receive toolsy players who they need to develop into baseball players. As an overview to the different models of developing players, one can say that Latin America does a great job of developing baseball prospects whereas the United States does a great job of developing baseball players. The people who are able to make it all the way to the big leagues are able to combine the tools of a prospect with the game experiences of a player.
Let’s transition into the other things the Royals do for these kids. First, they work on the English language. They focus on baseball words and verbs that will help these kids communicate with their English speaking counterparts once they reach the States. During the summer months, the players will have many one on one sessions with English speaking interns and others native English speakers. In addition, the players are required to complete a minimum of four hours of Rosetta Stone each week. Rosetta Stone is a computer software that claims to be the best way to learn a foreign language. Moreover, the Royals place an strong emphasis on the development of daily life skills by helping players with basic personal finance, the importance of showing up on time, how to become a leader, critical thinking skills, they are hoping to prepare these kids for what it means to be responsible and productive citizens.
The Royals also focus on cultural assimilation. What is it going to be like in the United States if you get there? How do you order food at restaurants and get a ride using Uber or a taxi service? They Royals provide these answers and even do a section of classes just based on critical thinking and how to make decisions. They have cultural activities for the guys as well as a baseball history class. They also focus on Royals history and have a class about baseball rules and situations.
The Royals have also developed a trade school program which plays a big role in their educational program. These guys are being given life skills to help them work and provide for a family once they are done with baseball. The guys have learned how to wait on tables, the skills necessary for bartending, and customer management skills. The Royals realize that they must make these guys marketable in other areas besides baseball in order to give them advantages in their lives. A new addition to this year’s trade-school program will be computer graphic design class similar to CAD. The players at the academy also receive certifications in Microsoft Word and Excel.
Now this sounds like an awful lot to pack into a day. And you’re right to think that. Guys hit the English language really hard during the summer season and add maybe two other classes a week. Most of the other programs are done during other times of the year. These guys are doing baseball for a job, so they are in and out of the academy year round. They aren’t all at the academy the entire year however. Just during season and at times in groups during the off season.
One other area the Royals focus on internationally is community service. They want to be an organization that helps make their communities better. This is something they utilize in the academy setting as well.
In summary, the Royals have programs in place for learning the English language, cultural assimilation, learning computer programs, obtaining a GED, learning trade crafts such as how to work in the service industry, electronic repair, and many more areas. You see, Jeff and the Royals understand that only a select few of these kids will get to the US and even fewer will get a major league contract. Jeff and the Royals realize that these kids need options for the future, and the goal is to give them one in an area that can better their lives.