Academy planned for Nicaragua
Private effort includes baseball and vocational training
Is Nicaragua the next hotbed for baseball? A group of U.S. businessmen, including former Major Leaguers Dave Stewart and Reggie Smith, believe it is and plan to build a privately funded academy in the Central American nation.
The International Baseball Association and its affiliate, International Baseball Academies -- Central America, announced plans on Thursday to build a state-of-the-art academy in Nicaragua for promising young players.
"We understand that for academies in the Dominican Republic, the primary mission is to find kids to play ball," said Bob Oettinger, one of the principals of IBACA-Nicaragua "We want to provide Nicaraguan kids that opportunity, but we are also going to incorporate vocational training. They will be getting the best instruction on the field, but also in the classroom. When it comes time to leave the academy, they will have learned skills for other areas."
About an hour west of Managua near the city of Villa del Carmen, the academy will be built adjacent to the Gran Pacifica Beach and Golf Resort on the Pacific Coast. The academy will be constructed in four phases, with the initial phase including a dormitory for 48 players, two full baseball fields, one half-field, eight pitching mounds, batting cages, a cafeteria, a trainers' room, locker rooms, a gym and weight room, a classroom with computers, administrative offices, and storage and maintenance areas.
The academy will accommodate 192 participants, most ranging from ages 14-16. Upon entering the academy, players will agree to give a portion of their signing bonuses to the academy if they sign with a Major League club. Fantasy camps and facility rentals for tournaments and winter ball will also provide a source of revenue for the facility.
Groundbreaking is scheduled for early 2010.
"The thing that impressed us is that we would see young people in uniform walking to pickup games in pastures and any place big enough to host game," Oettinger said. "We were really impressed with the level of play despite the facilities. They showed a lot of skill. We thought that if we can build a facility that's comparable to the Yankees or Mets, just think what these guys can do."
Baseball instruction at the academy will be provided by U.S. and Nicaraguan coaches with a staff that includes former Major League players Brad Lesley, Stewart and Smith. Campers will receive classroom instruction in English, computer skills, nutrition, humanities and business.
"We realize that it is an ambitious project, but we feel can pull it off and have the resources to make it happen," Smith said. "With the passion that they have for the game there, and the fact that it is centrally located, we believe the potential to produce ballplayers out of all of Central America is a tremendous opportunity."
"We want to accomplish what they are doing in other academies," Smith continued. "When they are ready to sign, we want the players to be capable enough to go to the United States."
As part of its research, the group spent time evaluating the baseball academies in the Dominican Republic, and it has worked closely with Major League Baseball's international office on the project. Although not officially affiliated with the project in Nicaragua, MLB has provided coaching clinics and advice on how to work with players.
"Dave came up to us about a year and a half ago about the idea, and as far as player development is concerned, from a baseball standpoint, it's a good idea," said Lou Melendez, MLB's vice president of international baseball operations. "It's a good project, and although we are not affiliated, having someone like Dave Stewart lends credibility to it, and I think they will do a world of good in Nicaragua."
There have been 11 big league players from Nicaragua, with the most recognizable being pitcher Dennis Martinez. In 2009, there were two Nicaraguans -- Vicente Padilla and Everth Cabrera -- on Opening Day rosters.
"We want it to be profitable venture, but we are just as motivated to do something for their country," Oettinger said. "We are so impressed with the people down there that we want something that will make a lasting impression on their lives. One of our guiding philosophies after doing our research is that we believe that Nicaragua, with the proper facilities, can be another Dominican Republic."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.