Development programs provide tools to succeed

7/6/2007 - MLB

MIAMI -- Some 30 percent of the players in Major League Baseball come from countries and territories other than the United States, and many of them are from Latin America -- mostly the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.

This trend is expected to continue, or at least remain stable for the foreseeable future, and the New York Mets are investing in Latin talent as part of their attempt to take over the National League. Mets general manager Omar Minaya, born in the Dominican Republic and the first Latin GM in major-league history, is responsible not only for getting the best possible players for his team but also for developing and polishing the young talent as quickly as possible.

"The Mets are doing things that have never been done in the majors, especially in the preparation of the kids we're signing, not only in Latin American but in the U.S., as well," Minaya told ESPNdeportes.com.

Minaya spoke proudly about a career-development program the Mets are implementing for their young players this spring. The workshop started the third week of February and will run through March 1. The program, which is modeled after one carried out by MLB with top prospects throughout baseball, includes financial planning, general etiquette, cultural adaptation, drug and steroid education, and warning signs of people who might not have the players' best interests at heart.

"We'll have this program every spring for every player in our organization, and we would also like to implement it in our academy in the Dominican Republic," said Minaya. "We're not just preparing these kids to play baseball, but many other things, as well -- for example, eating healthy."

But the Mets' new policy doesn't end there. For the first time, a major-league organization is taking its players to the baseball diamond and the classroom at the same time.

"Starting this year, we established a program in the Dominican with all of our players in the academy," said Minaya. "We have agreements with various schools close to our facilities; the kids practice in the morning, then go to school in the afternoon.

"They don't go just to study English. There, they have a variety of classes, just like any other student curriculum," he added. "Were shaping players, but more importantly, we're trying to form citizens capable of surviving in the world in case they don't go far in baseball."

Minaya, 45, is in his second season as Mets GM. He was assistant to the GM for the team during 1997-2002, before becoming general manager of the Montreal Expos, where he stayed two years.

Before the 2005 season, he signed Dominican pitcher Pedro Martinez and Puerto Rican outfielder Carlos Beltran as part of the reconstruction of the Mets, who seem poised to challenge the Atlanta Braves in the National League East this year.

With the addition of Jose Lima, Julio Franco, Jose Valentin and Endy Chavez, in addition to the big trade for Carlos Delgado, a total of 27 Latin players are with the Mets at spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (either on the big-league roster or as nonroster invitees).

Salsa, merengue, bachata and reggaeton music blare in the Mets' clubhouse. Little by little, Spanish is becoming the prominent language on the team. As a result of Minaya's offseason moves, some in the New York press accused the GM of "Latinizing" the Mets, and a popular radio talk show host suggested that Minaya was a racist.

"Neither I nor the Mets think about race, creed or color when we go after a player," Minaya said. "We're looking for the best talent possible to make our team a winner. Our goal is to put together the best team possible for the New York fans."

Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.