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Biertempfel: Marte is fruit of Pirates' labor

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Friday, July 27, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

HOUSTON — Starling Marte grew up on the outskirts of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. On Thursday night, many of the televisions there were tuned to show Marte's big league debut for the Pirates.

A few miles away in El Toro, everyone at the Pirates' baseball academy was watching, too. Marte is the first graduate of the sprawling complex, which was rebuilt from the ground up in 2008, to reach the majors.

“He's the first of many good ones we've got coming,” said Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo, who signed Marte in 2007.

Due to years of neglect, the facility had deteriorated to little more than a shed next to a hardscrabble field. Owner Bob Nutting, realizing the importance of finding and developing talent in Latin America, sank $5 million into renovations.

The academy has multiple fields, a massive clubhouse and weight room and indoor batting cages. It also has dorms, a cafeteria — critical in a country where about a quarter of the population is malnourished — and classrooms where players learn to speak English, among other lessons.

“I appreciate all the help I received,” Marte said. “I'm looking forward to doing whatever I can for the youngest players in that academy.”

Marte is the 21st player signed by Gayo, who played in the majors. Gayo lives near Houston and Thursday had a prime seat behind home plate to watch Marte's debut.

“Starling is, talent-wise and character-wise, the best player I have ever signed,” Gayo said, sounding like a proud papa as much as a scout. “I feel like, ‘Wow, I hope I can do that again.' ”

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