Dodgers reopen renovated Dominican academy

Dodgers reopen renovated Dominican academy

SAN ANTONIO GUERRA, Dominican Republic -- The Dodgers dedicated their freshly renovated baseball academy outside of Santo Domingo on Tuesday, demonstrating ownership's commitment to the region and reflecting the overarching importance of Caribbean society to the game of baseball.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, President of the Dominican Republic Danilo Medina, Dodgers chairman Mark Walter and much of the club's front office were joined by local legends Ralph Avila, Manny Mota and Ramon Martinez, as well as by current Dodger Pedro Baez and former Dodgers Juan Uribe and Joel Peralta.

"Our 30-year-old academy is new again," said Janet Marie Smith, the Dodgers senior vice president who oversaw the estimated $8 million renovation and expansion of Campo Las Palmas, which retained a tropical campus ambiance similar to the old Dodgertown Spring Training site with state-of-the-art technology, training facilities and creature comforts.

Originally built by Caribbean coordinator Avila and opened by former owner Peter O'Malley and general manager Al Campanis in March 1987, Campo Las Palmas was the first such academy for a Major League team. Now all 30 teams have a presence in the Dominican.

"Baseball's continuing investment in the Dominican Republic and in the development of players is important to the economy here and it's important to our game," said Manfred. "I am struck by the fact that some of the features here really demonstrate baseball's priorities in the Dominican Republic. For all of us, it's not just about the development of players. It's also about the development of people and communities here in the Dominican Republic.

"That's why the Dodgers invested in four great classrooms and a first-class educational program. That's why they developed a program that encourages acculturation activities for the young men here and, maybe most importantly, why there's a Little League facility just inside the gates. It's about building a community as well as developing players."

Walter, CEO Stan Kasten and their Guggenheim Baseball Management have recommitted to turning local talent into ballplayers and well-rounded citizens, along with supporting the local community. The Dodgers have hired professors to teach the players English and life skills, while Kasten presented $10,000 donations to three local foundations, including the one run by Mota, the longtime player, coach and broadcaster who has supported Dominican youth for four decades.

Avila, called by Kasten "the Godfather of all this," literally found the land, cleared the sugar cane, planted the trees and dragged the infield in the camp's early days.

"I'm very happy," said Avila, 86, who signed 47 future Major Leaguers, including Pedro Martinez, Adrian Beltre and Raul Mondesi. "We have had players from 27 different countries train here, learning the Dodger way. It's amazing to see how it has grown and the impact Campo Las Palmas has made on the game."

Now 70 acres with 100,000 square feet of indoor space, each new building on the site is named after pioneers of the Dodgers and baseball in Latin America, from the Walter O'Malley Headquarters and the Avila Command Post to the Jackie Robinson Hall and the Roy Campanella Clubhouse, from the Tom Lasorda Dining Hall to the classrooms named after Dodgers Hall of Fame Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, who emceed the dedication.

"We applaud our young men who have dedicated themselves and are preparing to succeed in life," said Danilo Diaz, the country's sports minister. "To be able to have an educational opportunity is what this academy has dedicated itself to. We are hopeful other teams will follow suit in education."

Field No. 1 is named for Mota, who has been with the organization since 1969 and was especially humbled by the club's support of his foundation.

"I'm thankful they have allowed me to be part of this prestigious organization for so long," said Mota, 79 next month. "Not only for me and my family, I think this is a tribute to the people of the Dominican Republic. I am glad it happened while I'm still alive to enjoy it."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.