Panama seeks assistance from MLB
President meets with league brass during New York visit
NEW YORK -- The state of baseball in Panama has officially become a presidential matter.
Seeking what has been coined as "technical assistance," Panama president Martin Torrijos and his delegation discussed the future of the sport in his country, including the possible creation of a baseball academy, exhibition games during Spring Training and inclusion in the next World Baseball Classic, with Major League Baseball officials on Monday.
Torrijos, in town for the United Nations General Assembly, made a special trip to MLB's central office to discuss the potential partnership. The Panamanian president has been busy. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch to countryman and Yankees closer Mariano Rivera before Saturday's game at Yankee Stadium. He spent a few minutes speaking via cell phone with Houston left fielder Carlos Lee, one of the 86 Panamanian players in the Major and Minor Leagues, following his talk with MLB officials.
"We have a long history of many players in the Major Leagues and in the Minor Leagues, and that not only shows the spirit of sport in Panama to the world, but also the spirit of the people and community of our country," Torrijos said. "These athletes are examples to our children who follow them and we want to do more to help them help our country."
Torrijos's traveling party included vice-president Samuel Lewis Navarro and Ramon Cardoze, the director of the Panamanian Institute of Sports. Among those representing Major League Baseball were Major League Baseball president and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy, executive vice president, administration John McHale and executive vice president & chief financial officer Jonathan Mariner.
"Our role is to provide technical assistance and we think we can help," DuPuy said. "One of the Commissioner's initiatives is to grow the game internationally, and we believe Panama can be a part of that. Baseball has been popular in the area for a long time. I wouldn't call it the new frontier. I would call it the expanding frontier."
During the approximately 35-minute meeting, the Panamanian delegation discussed the renovation of two stadiums in the country as well as the building of a new stadium in Panama City. The funding for the stadiums is coming from the private sector in Panama.
MLB's role would be to provide technical assistance in the building and refurbishing of the facilities. Panama also asked for assistance in the possible creation of a high school academy similar to Edwin Correa's Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School where players improve their baseball skills while also receiving a high school diploma and potentially earning a college scholarship.
Exhibition games during Spring Training in 2010, along with the continued training of Panamanian coaches and scouting by Major League personnel were also among the matters discussed. All matters are being evaluated by MLB.
"Panama is a country where kids play the game, they have some 80 Minor league players and some MLB stars, and definitively MLB could have a lot of potential in that country" said Ronaldo Peralta, Senior Manager of International Baseball Operations in Latin America.
Led by Peralta, Major League Baseball's International Office held baseball clinics in Panama as well as in El Salvador and Nicaragua earlier this year. Each of the three clinics featured two pitching coaches, one catching instructor, one infielder instructor and one outfield/batting instructor from various Major League teams and a basic workout plan that included stretching, fielding, running, and batting drills.
In Panama, 50 Panamanian players, ages 14 to 18, along with 32 local baseball coaches attended the five-day clinic. Each three-hour workday concluded with a question-and-answer session with the Major League coaches and local Panamanian coaches. Another clinic in Panama is scheduled for November.
"As far as international baseball goes, Panama is equal to every other nation," said Dr. Harvey Schiller, president of the International Baseball Federation. "The development and commitment coming from Panama is very important if they are going to compete on the world stage, whether that is WBC or the Olympics. I think it is terrific that the president of the country is so interested in developing the game on every level."
Panama has room for improvement. The country went 0-3 in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, losing 2-1 to Puerto Rico 8-6 to Cuba and 10-0 to the Netherlands. An original member of the Caribbean Confederation along with Cuba, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, when it was organized in 1949, Panama won its first and only Caribbean Series title in 1950, but has not competed in the annual round-robin since 1970, when the tournament was reorganized to include the Dominican Republic and Mexico, while dropping Panama.
The country has not been guaranteed a spot in the 2009 World Baseball Classic or in the Caribbean Series.
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.