SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- The Cubs are starting fresh in Latin America and making a big splash in the Dominican Republic.
At a news conference Thursday at El Embajador Hotel in the country's capital, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and members of his family, pitcher Carlos Marmol, shortstop Starlin Castro and a contingent of club personnel unveiled renderings of a new academy that will be constructed over the next two years.
"It's about doing everything we can to be the best organization in baseball, and you can't be the best organization in baseball unless you have a strong presence in the Dominican and a strong presence in Latin America," Ricketts said. "Obviously, Latin America is very important to us. We feel we have a great director [of Latin American scouting] in Jose Serra, and we feel we have great scouts, coaches and great trainers. Soon, we will have a great facility for those people to work in, plus take care of all those players that come into the academy."
Located in La Gina, outside of Santo Domingo, the facility will span 50 acres, making it the largest academy in the country. It will be open year-round, complete with baseball fields and training facilities, housing for Minor League players during the season and for Major Leaguers in the offseason, and will serve as an education center for Cubs prospects.
The new academy will serve players from across the world, including Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Aruba, Curacao and Mexico, in addition to the Dominican Republic.
"We have been to the Dominican Republic three times," Ricketts said. "On the first trip, we wanted to see how we treated the players and what kind of facilities they had to make sure it was consistent with how we want to treat people in our organization. And what we found out was that people treated the people very well but the facilities were behind. [During] the second trip [we] decided to get some land and address the issues we recognized. We have spent the last couple of years getting ready for this trip to finalize the plans."
The academy will feature four fields, including one with artificial turf, four covered batting cages, eight bullpens, a weight room, a cafeteria and kitchen, two locker rooms, two meeting rooms, a large classroom that can be converted to four smaller classrooms, plus a theatre and video room. An on-site dormitory will house up to 80 players and eight staff members.
The academy will serve as an educational center equipped with classrooms and staff to teach English and Spanish to players and personnel, and players will be able to earn their GED high school equivalents. The Cubs say the center will place an emphasis on education, health and nutrition.
"A project like this is very important because all the players on the island are getting the opportunity to train in the type of facility the Cubs will have if they sign," said Castro, who signed out of the Dominican with Chicago in 2006. "We have an owner that really cares about the players and the people on this island. This is going to be the best academy in Latin America."
The Cubs estimate the complex will take 12-18 months to build and will cost the club between $6-8 million to complete.
"What the Ricketts family has done to support our Latin Players and our Latin players of the future makes you feel lucky to be a part of it," said Oneri Fleita, the club's vice president of player personnel. "I have been here 18 years and I feel like this is my first day and I've just started with this organization for the first time."
The Ricketts family also recently donated to the Institute for Latin American Concern to help fund a clinic whose goal is to reduce hypertension and diabetes in the northern part of the country.
"We very much care about the players we sign," Ricketts said. "Very few make it to the financial stability of a Major League contract, but we will treat them all the same and recognize that these are all valuable years for them even if they are not going to be players in the U.S."