Sometimes baseball is more than a game, or a passion, or even an ambition.
Sometimes -- as it is for the poverty-stricken Carlos Correa -- it's a way out.
See, Correa lives in what is essentially the equivalent of public housing in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico -- a rough neighborhood on the southern coast of the island. He and his mother, father, 12-year-old brother and 2-year-old sister used to live in a small house by the river that would constantly flood during rain storms, so they moved to another one that is just as small and in a similarly bad area, but away from the water.
One day, Correa wants to make it to the Majors, not just because it has always been his dream to play baseball for a living -- and surely it has -- but because he wants to be able to provide a better life for his family.
"I look at baseball, apart from having fun, as a job that can allow me to help my family economically," the shortstop said in Spanish. "With God's help, I can one day help my entire family."
That's the dream of so many kids who grow up poor outside the continental United States.
But few are as good as Correa, who is approaching his senior year of high school.
Correa could one day be the highest pick out of high school in Puerto Rico in Draft history. At least that's what's being entertained in some circles. That title currently belongs to catcher Ramon Castro, who was taken with the No. 17 pick in the 1994 First-Year Player Draft. And though plenty of time remains before this supremely talented teenager's name is announced at the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, Correa projects to be highly touted next spring.
PRBAHS PLAYERS TAKEN IN THE 2010 FIRST-YEAR PLAYER DRAFT
Correa, who plays and attends school at the talent-rich Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School -- one Major League Baseball is very much involved with -- is listed at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds. Scouts have raved about his defense, arm strength and the way the ball jumps off his bat -- something that will only improve as he gets stronger.
"He's a special player," PRBAHS infield coach Julio Campos said.
And on top of the raw tools, Correa's coaches praise how hard he works, how mature he is for his age, how instinctive he plays the game and how disciplined he is, as evidenced by a 4.0 grade-point average.
PRBAHS hitting coach Francisco Melendez would know. Nearly every morning, Melendez -- the former big league first baseman who lives near Correa -- drives him one hour to and from school, and on the way they'll often talk baseball and mostly talk life.
"He always knows how every player is playing on the other team," Melendez said. "That's what makes him different -- the attitude he has about the game, whether it's against a good team or a bad team, a hard-thrower and a bad thrower. He finds a way, because he's so smart and in-tune with everything."
Correa has played in showcases all over the world, including the Perfect Game National Showcase he recently attended in Fort Myers, Fla.
But it's the Puerto Rico Academy that has helped take him to the next level.
Unlike the MLB Urban Youth Academies in the continental U.S., the Puerto Rico Academy -- now grades 9-12; all boys -- is a school instead of an after-school program. Half of the student body will attend classes in the first half of the day while the others hit the field, to either play against one another, competing versus other teams or train. They then alternate in the afternoon.
This past school year, they had a student body of 276.
In the 10 years since the school began, 64 players -- including four this year -- have been selected in the First-Year Player Draft and, more importantly, about 96 percent have gone on to attend four- or two-year colleges.
MLB has been involved in the board of directors since the school's inception, starting by giving PRBAHS $50,000 in its first year and increasing that contribution to $450,000 this past school year.
Correa, who started at the school in 10th grade, was the beneficiary of partial scholarships early on, just like every other student. But for his senior year -- because of his abilities on the diamond, grades in the classroom and needs at home -- he'll have a full ride to a school with an annual tuition of $5,700.
"He deserves it," PRBAHS athletic director Carlos Berroa said. "He takes everything he does seriously. He's not one of those kids who likes to cut corners. He wants to be the best at everything he does."
Correa has an assortment of colleges to choose from at the moment, and right now his favorite is Vanderbilt, which he'll visit in November. But his dream is to make it to the Major Leagues, because he wants to play baseball for a living, and because he wants to take care of those who took care of him.
Like his father, Carlos Sr., a construction worker who pulls shifts from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m., then comes home every day to hit his son ground balls and throw him batting practice.
"He's like that," the younger Correa said. "I'm where I am because of his sacrifices. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be where I'm at right now. Maybe one day I can repay him."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.