Puerto Rico school dedicated to teens
Correa's goal is to give kids hope and opportunities
The students come from all over the island, places like San Juan, Caguas, Carolina, Ponce, Levittown and Bayamon, to learn how to be better at the sport they love. But the lessons the players learn at the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School do more than improve skills on the field.
They also make them better citizens.
That was the vision for the school when former big league pitcher Edwin Correa formed the idea to create it four years ago. With the second graduating class scheduled for August, his dream has already become a reality.
"I noticed that here in Puerto Rico, baseball had diminished so much, not really on the professional level or amateur level, but there was a need to develop something for the kids for the future, a good life in the future through baseball," he said. "I discovered in Puerto Rico, there is no baseball in high school. Believe it or not, we are in a tropical place and have no baseball in high school. There was a need to establish something because Playstations and X-box were taking over.
"It was time to get those kids back and put them in a program."
Located in Caguas and operating on the campus of the University of Gurabo, the resources for the facility have steadily grown since its inception in 2002. The school includes a cafeteria, administration building and six classrooms. There are 21 coaches/teachers who specifically work on baseball skills and nine teachers who specialize on the collegiate preparatory curriculum for the 150 students.
Most students who enter the school are 14 or 15 years old and are selected via a tryout, following academic and psychological exams.
School starts at 7:30 a.m. with breakfast, which leads into three hours of baseball training that starts at 8 a.m. Students eat lunch from 11:30 to 1 p.m. and immediately head to classes in the afternoon for four hours a day.
"It's a normal high school with a program dedicated to baseball," Correa said. "We have 37 municipalities represented and some parents have moved closer to send the kids here or moved the student in with a relative. We have kids waking up at 4:30 in the morning to be at school at 7. There is a lot of dedication."
The dedication could pay dividends for the island's future.
The number of Puerto Rican players in the Major Leagues has diminished since the commonwealth became subject to the First-Year Player Draft in 1989. This season, there were 34 Puerto Rican players on Major League rosters on Opening Day, which was third on the list for foreign-born players behind the Dominican Republic (91) and Venezuela (46).
Last season, the first graduating class for the school, 12 players were selected in the First-Year Player Draft. Most of the other 48 players who graduated last season received scholarships to play baseball in Puerto Rico and the United States, and could eventually get drafted in the future.
Correa expects a similar number of players will be selected in this year's version of the First-Year Player Draft despite only 43 members in the 2005 graduating class.
The future for the school is promising. There are approximately 3,000 students on a waiting list to get in and Major League Baseball supports the project with annual funding. Correa hopes to open a middle school modeled after the high school and expand the baseball curriculum to include umpire and sports medicine training. The construction of a building and facility for the school is also being discussed.
"As an industry, there is such a large percentage of players who are foreign-born, but we noticed the number of players from Puerto Rico have diminished for a number of factors," said Louis Melendez, vice president of International Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball. "The school provides a vehicle to not only develop future stars that may come into the game, but it also helps young men go to college in the United States. They become world citizens."
For his part, Correa is certain the work at the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School will pay off -- one way or another.
"I want the kids to be professional at anything through lessons of baseball," Correa said. "I got so much from baseball. My goal is to give kids an opportunity, give some hope and create role models that keep going to school and become better citizens and better human beings."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.