The ceremony will include comments from Cardinals Chairman of the Board and General Partner Bill DeWitt Jr. and Vice President of Player Procurement Jeff Luhnow as well as government and local officials. A game will follow the ceremonies pitting Cardinals academy players versus the Phillies Dominican affiliate.
Before the Academy was announced, I asked Luhnow about the significant investment the organization is making. "It's one of the things that people don't realize that in addition to the payroll at the major league level, which is pretty big for a mid-market team, we are investing dollars in the international program, amateur scouting and other areas. That all adds up to a pretty big number. The owners, in my opinion, are very generous in allocation of dollars in all of those areas. It's really a balance that you need. You need to spend money on your current team, but you also need to spend money on the future. We are doing that now and feel pretty good about it.
The Cardinals have certain positions they will to focus on. "…the sort of players that we want to invest in; players that have a chance to make it to the big leagues, especially at those key positions, catcher and middle infield, and obviously, pitchers. We have a lot of pitchers down there that we are very excited about," Luhnow explained.
It is also about helping these young men prepare to eventually play in the United States or for life after baseball. "The kids we've signed down there have graduated from high school for the most part. We put in a program for them which is pretty comprehensive. They live in a house together. They train basically baseball from morning until afternoon. Then, they have an English program. They were going to an English instructor. We also had many of our coaching staff living there in the house with the players this winter. So, they were able to spend a lot of time with the players and talk about what it is like when you go to the States.
"We're going to put an education program into our new facility, which will encompass more than just English. It will also have components that will address what it is like to live in the United States; what these young kids who have never been abroad need to know and prepare them more generally for life, whether it is computer skills or how to get along with people, understanding social norms and all that sort of stuff. We're right now developing a full-blown educational program for these young men so that when they come to the United States, they're better prepared not only for the baseball side of life, but the rest of it.
"We recognize that most of these players at the end of the day are not going to make it to the big leagues. And somewhere along the way, they are going to need to end the playing portion of their baseball days and move on to something else. A lot of them may stay involved in baseball one way or another. But, at least, we'd like to feel good about our contribution toward helping them become better prepared in life, regardless of whatever career path they choose."
A noble effort, but how do we know it will be successful? It turns out that Luhnow has done his homework. "I was involved in doing a comprehensive study of how every other team was approaching their international operations, both in terms of how many resources they were dedicating to it, how many dollars, what kind of people, but also their strategy in the country as how they were finding players, what kind of signing bonuses they would give and all of that stuff. So, we did all of that. We studied it. We worked out the model we wanted to pursue and we started pursuing it."
For those critical of the team's major league budget, Luhnow reminds us that this investment is being made with an eye on the future. "The way I think about it, in corporate America, it's the R&D pipeline. If you're a pharmaceuticals firm or an engineering firm, you've always got to invest in the future. That is what we are doing through this program."
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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