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Pirates open new training academy in Dominican Republic

Rob Biertempfel
| Friday, May 1, 2009

EL TORO, Dominican Republic -- Two years ago, Pirates owner Bob Nutting was struck by what he saw when he visited the team's aging training facility in the Dominican Republic.

It consisted of a ramshackle field and a building the size of a closet.

"It was not just a closet," Nutting said. "It was an unkept closet."

Much of the equipment was out of date. Newer items sat untouched because there wasn't enough power or space to use them. Players had to take hour-long rides, often clinging to the backs of motorcycles, to work out and lift weights.

Nutting immediately decided to construct a new Latin American headquarters and training academy.

Thursday, Nutting christened the sparkling, $5 million Academia de Beisbol , which will house the Pirates' team in the Dominican Summer League as well as other players invited to train there. Construction was finished about 15 months after the groundbreaking in January 2008.

"From that starting point to today is really transformational for our Latin American operations," Nutting said. "I really believe this is the finest facility in the Dominican."

About 40 percent of non-American players in the majors come from the Dominican Republic. Yet, the Pirates' efforts in that country -- in fact, in all of Latin America -- had fallen drastically over the past 15 years.

"If you build a championship organization from within, you've got to be a major player in a market like the Dominican Republic," team president Frank Coonelly said. "This will help make us again a major player."

A sign at the entrance warns, "No Armes de Fuego" -- no firearms allowed. But the security guard manning the gate, one of three on duty 24/7 at the complex, toted a pump-action shotgun. He was not smiling.

The facility and its playing fields are not visible from the narrow, winding road which runs in front. A heavy line of trees and a few small farms form a buffer between the academy and the outside world.

"We wanted something off the street, a private area where our kids can focus on (baseball)," said Pirates executive vice president Dennis DaPra, who took a lead role in planning the facility.

Players are not permitted off campus after 7 p.m. and must be in their rooms by 11 p.m. There are no guests, no alcohol and no cars allowed. Those are the same rules followed at Pirate City, the team's rookie camp in Bradenton, Fla.

There are other intentional similarities between the Dominican complex and Pirate City. The architecture has the same smooth, flowing lines. The team's logo "P" turns up everywhere. The phone and Internet are linked to the systems at PNC Park.

The clubhouse lockers and lightweight game jerseys were shipped down from Bradenton. The trainers' room, packed with weights and workout gear, is a smaller version of the one at PNC Park.

"Everything is the same -- here, in Bradenton, in Altoona, all the way up the ladder," assistant conditioning coordinator Kiyoshi Momose said.

There are about 35 players, 10 coaches and 30 staff members living at the facility. When additional bunkbeds are installed, the capacity will reach 90.

The facility has a cafeteria, laundry, general store and game room with video games and tables for ping-pong, pool and dominoes.

Players will spend 10 to 15 hours a week in classrooms, learning English, Spanish and basic math and science. There also will be "life skills" classes to ease the culture shock for players who eventually are promoted to minor league teams in America.

The logos of every team in the Pirates' system -- Bradenton, West Virginia, State College, Lynchburg, Altoona, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh -- hang in the clubhouse and cafeteria.

"Those are reminders that we don't want this to (the players') last stop," said Trevor Gooby, senior director of Florida and Dominican operations.

Additional Information:

Academia de Beisbol

The Pirates' new Latin American headquarters, by the numbers:

$5 million total cost

46 acres

35 players can be housed in the dormitory this week

90 players and coaches at maximum capacity

4 covered batting stations

6 bullpens

2 1/2 fields

300 dozen baseballs

120 socks

244 T-shirts

288 black caps

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