For a teenager just starting out in organized baseball, the experience can be scary. And when he doesn't understand what the coaches are saying because he can't speak English, it can be positively chilling.
06/23/2011 10:51 AM ET
Beltran to open baseball academy
Youngsters will refine their skills while going to high school
By Hal Bock / MLBPLAYERS.com
Carlos Beltran knows all about that because he experienced it first-hand when he was 18 years old in 1995. Raised in Puerto Rico and drafted by the Royals, Beltran remembered being intimidated because he did not speak English.
"If you don't know what the coaches are saying, it's a big adjustment," he said. "I remember everything was in English -- meetings, instruction, everything. For me to understand, I always waited to be the last one out on the field. I followed the other players, did what they were doing. I couldn't communicate. I couldn't understand."
His dream is to prevent that from happening to the next generation of Latin American players. And so, the Mets outfielder has funded the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, where youngsters will refine their skills while going to high school.
"English only," Beltran said. "All the classes will be in English. My experience and that of many other Puerto Rican players coming to the United States, you find a different culture. Knowing the language is important if you want to have a chance in the United States as a pro or in college. I want them to be prepared for what is ahead."
There was frustration for Beltran in those early days, but he never considered walking away from the game he loved. "All I cared about was playing baseball," he said. "I knew language would come. I wasn't afraid. For others, though, it could be a problem. To have a better opportunity, these kids need to be prepared and they need to know the language. You want to be able to take care of yourself. A lot of young guys are afraid to talk, afraid people will laugh at them."
Beltran found a solution to his problem in his own clubhouse.
"We had an outfielder, Ricky Pitts," he said. "He spoke English but not Spanish. We made a deal. I told him to teach me two or three words of English a day, words related to baseball, and I would teach him Spanish. It worked out for us."
They played together with the Gulf Coast Royals and then Pitts was cut. Beltran moved up through the Royals organization on the road to becoming one of baseball's top stars. When he made it to Majors in 1998 and the team played in Seattle, his old pal and English teacher would show up at Safeco Field to visit. "He'd say, `You made it, I'm so happy for you,'" Beltran said.
It was a reminder of Beltran's humble beginnings and how a couple of young players had helped each other.
Beltran was named the American League Rookie of the Year in 1999. He has blossomed into a full-fledged star as the only player in Major League history to record four straight seasons of 20 or more home runs, 100 or more runs scored, 100 or more RBIs and 30 or more stolen bases.
When he signed a $119 million free-agent contract with the Mets in 2005, Beltran began planning for the Academy. Ground was broken last November. Now the $19 million project, the cornerstone of his foundation, is scheduled to open in August with 180 students in grades 10 through 12.
Beltran's Academy is located in Florida, Puerto Rico, down the road from Manati, where the outfielder was raised and still lives in the offseason. It's a convenient location for the Academy's No. 1 baseball instructor -- an outfielder who went through hard times when he was their age and who doesn't want them to experience that.