Scott German: Baltimore Orioles building a nest for Baby Birds
Another long season on the field is on the horizon for the Orioles, but it’s beyond the horizon that is giving hope to Oriole Nation.
The club announced plans this past week of the development of a 23-acre training facility academy to be built in the Dominican Republic. This new facility will help cultivate the pipeline of talent the Orioles are developing in this baseball-fertile region.
This is groundbreaking and welcomed news to the Oriole fanbase. Just a few years ago Baltimore was considered a non-player in signing and developing international talent.
Then the organization had a massive house cleaning from field manager Buck Showalter to firing practically every scout, minor league instructor to the pencil pushers in the warehouse.
This after the franchise introduced local product (Northern Virginia) Mike Elias as the new general manager/president of baseball operations. They say a new broom sweeps clean; Elias used a wrecking ball to get the cleanup started.
Elias came up from Houston, where he was a key player in the Astros’ rebuild a few years ago that led to a World Series title. So, he had some experience in the rebuilding process.
Baltimore is not Houston. The Baltimore TV market is ranked 26th, Houston eighth. Baltimore has about 600,000 residents, Houston about 2.3 million. Most important is that the closest competition for ticket sales/fan base for the Astros is nearly four hours away by car in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers.
For the Orioles, a 30-minute drive south gets you to Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals, and a 90-minute hike north lands you in Citizens Bank Park residence of the Philadelphia Phillies.
The point of the geography lesson is to emphasis the competition for baseball revenue is far greater in “Charm City” than “H-Town.”
Elias knew that to consistently compete against the likes of the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and more locally the Nationals, the team had to be strong from the ground up, even if most of that ground was far south of Baltimore.
Baltimore finds its way to the Dominican Republic
The Orioles are certainly not the only MLB team that seeks and cultivates talent in the DR. The Los Angeles Dodgers opened an academy in San Pedro de Macoris in 1987. The academy featured well-manicured fields, dorms with hot water and top-notch instructors.
By the mid 1990s, Latinos made up about one-ninth of all major leaguers; half were from the Dominican Republic.
Signing young talent, as early as 13 to 16, is not always easy. Headhunters (Dominican scouts) persuade families to let them train their sons at their facilities. They train them, feed them and provide excellent medical care. As the boys near their 17th birthday, the scouts take them to “tryouts.” The Dominican scouts hope the tryouts end in a bidding war from major league teams, as the scouts generally receive about 30 percent of any signing money.
A great deal of what attracts the Dominican player to sign with a particular club is the facilities, so Elias and Orioles ownership are positioning the club to show the commitment to developing and educating the young Dominican player as to offer him the fastest and most likely pathway to the riches and opportunities of MLB.
The academy gives the player instructions in English and life skills to prepare the players for the culture awakening they will confront upon making it to the major leagues. However, most players signed never leave the island, and many who do are often released after just a few years.
The Orioles hope to change that.
The Orioles academy will provide more than baseball training. They will offer extensive English training, guide to handling financial concerns, proper nutrition, basic computer skills. Life lessons that the player will need if his talent level takes him to “The Show.”
Once a player is signed and makes the major league roster the signing team has that player under team control for six years. If a player is of all-star quality, the team’s financial compensation is light years lower than what the player will receive on free agent market.
The Orioles understand once a player is no longer under the club’s initial control, the bidding waters of free agency are deep. The likelihood of Baltimore matching a player’s offer from a New York, LA or Boston is slim. But if the player gives the Orioles four to six effective years at the major league level, then it puts the team in a position to be competitive.
The academy will help not only develop the players Baltimore has already signed, but hopefully convince other Dominican players to join them.
If the Orioles are going to compete successfully against New York, Boston and even to some degree the Nationals the rebuild must be from the bottom up. With the new Dominican academy, it gives local players hope. It also gives us Oriole fans some as well.
Story by Scott German