MLB helping to revive baseball in Puerto Rico
Former All-Star Delgado part of effort to grow the game on the island
Carlos Delgado remembers the good old days.
The former Major League slugger grew up during the Puerto Rican Winter League's heyday, a period in the island's baseball history when all of his idols played on the field together.
In 1995, he was a member of the island's Dream Team, a club made up of some of Puerto Rico's most accomplished Major Leaguer players who dominated the Caribbean Series. Delgado was also part of all three of the island's World Baseball Classic squads, the first two times as a player, and then as a hitting coach for the 2013 team that finished as the tournament runner-up.
Now, he is pitching in again, this time for the island's baseball future.
Delgado and former Major League infielder Alex Cora were among the guest speakers at the Torneo de Excelencia Victor Pellot, a tournament made up of some of the top amateur talent in Puerto Rico this week at the Sola Morales Stadium in Caguas, Puerto Rico.
Last week, Major League Baseball announced its partnership with the Puerto Rico Scouts Association to host the seven-team tournament that runs through Saturday.
"We haven't produced as many players as in the past, that's not a secret," Delgado said. "So you have to get things done to [improve] that. It's great if I can share my experience and be part of the solution. I think you can use events like the WBC to build momentum and excitement, but you have to have an organized plan. At the end of the day, you want more Puerto Rican players in the big leagues."
The 2013 Torneo de Excelencia tournament began Monday with an orientation program featuring Delgado, Cora and Major League Baseball officials for the 200 players in attendance and their families. The prospects worked out in front of Major League scouts on Tuesday and began playing three games per day Wednesday.
"This event is an opportunity to understand the process and be seen by clubs prior to the Draft, but it's not the only opportunity for kids here," said Joel Araujo, manager of Latin American game development for MLB. "I really think it was good for the kids to see that there are different roads to the big leagues and there is not one perfect way to make it. Carlos talked about signing as a teenager and Alex talked about his experience as a college player. They both talked about working hard, and it hit home with the kids."
The tournament is MLB's latest initiative to promote baseball on the island.
A month ago, MLB and The Department of Recreation and Sports of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico joined forces to create an after-school baseball program designed to help develop high school players on the island.
The nine-month program for players in grades 9 to 11 will feature three hours of instruction, three days a week, starting Monday at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan. The program will eventually expand to four regions on the island, with 35-50 players expected to participate in each region.
"It's important that you develop and teach the kids so they are playing the game the right way," Delgado said. "You need to instruct the instructors. It's not an easy task, but we have to keep finding a way to promote baseball in Puerto Rico and get kids excited and involved. Every piece and every program can help get more Puerto Ricans in the big leagues."
Overall, the number of Puerto Ricans in the Major Leagues has declined since the commonwealth became subject to the First-Year Player Draft in 1989, but there were 13 players from Puerto Rico on Opening Day 25-man rosters this season, compared to 11 players last year.
Last June, Carlos Correa, who attended the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School, made history as the first Puerto Rican player selected with the first overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft. Overall, 25 players from the island were selected last June, and four additional Puerto Rican players were signed after a showcase put together by Major League Baseball not long after the Draft.
"This is a great time in Puerto Rico, and not only because of the recent WBC phenomenon," Araujo said. "There are some things in place, and we want to keep the excitement going with the tournament and the after-school program. There's a good feeling in Puerto Rico and we're happy to be a part of it."