Carlos Beltrán has shown a gift for coming through in the clutch, hitting some big home runs in the postseason. But none of them is bigger than the grand slam he's hit with the creation of a school, the Carlos Beltrán Baseball Academy, which has instilled hope and excitement for youngsters in Beltrán's native Puerto Rico.
"I wanted to basically do something that would last a long time and at the same time be able to help out the youth in my country," the 36-year-old outfielder, recently signed by the New York Yankees, told Fox News Latino.
"Honestly, God has given me the blessing and the opportunity to play this sport for a lot of years and the opportunity to generate good money, and it was time to get involved with the community, with the town," he said.
Beltrán was introduced to the New York press last week, with the announcement of his three-year, $45 million deal with the Yankees, a team he rooted for growing up.
He could have sent a load of backpacks filled with school materials for the kids at the beginning of the year. He could have hosted a clinic at the end of the season. He could have signed a six-figure check to some charity. But he had a better plan: To pave the way for a private academy in his hometown of Manatí, on the northern coast of Puerto Rico.
The 2013 Roberto Clemente Award winner and eight-time All-Star said he views the project as an effort not only to assist talented Puerto Ricans on the diamond, but one that can reinforce the players' understanding of how determining education can be in their lives.
The academy’s main message, he said, is very simple: To have a chance to live out your dream, you need to excel in the classroom.
The Carlos Beltrán Baseball Academy, whose first class graduated in June, includes grades 10 through 12. Students are placed in one of nine groups, with the school day split into two long sessions, one athletic and one academic. Five groups hit the books at the beginning of the day, while the other four are out on the field; then they switch up for the latter half of the day.
Students need to carry a 2.5 GPA to graduate to remain enrolled.
According to a report by the island's Department of Education, as much as 40 percent of Puerto Rico's public school students drop out by the 10th grade.
While the classes in the academy are taught in both English and Spanish, Beltrán said he wants it to be mostly English — a major challenge for him when he was first drafted by the Kansas City Royals in 1995 at age 18.
"This school is totally bilingual for the simple reason that we have to prepare these youngsters [so that] when they get to the United States, they can be prepared with the language and the transition," Beltrán said, adding that he sees it as a "positive tool so that they can continue developing."
Josefa Jiménez, an administrator at the academy, lauded the ballplayer for the drive and determination he's had since the program's inception.
"Mr. Beltrán is a person worth of admiration, who is committed to the Puerto Rican youth. I think that more Carlos Beltráns are needed in our country," she said.
"A lot of people have the gift and haven't had the vision. How beautiful would it be if a lot more visions and a lot more schools could rise, not only for baseball but for any other sport to motivate our youth. Unfortunately, the youth in Puerto Rico is dying since it has focused on other things," Jiménez said.
She also pointed out that the objective is for to develop as much passion for being in the field as for sitting in the classroom.
Two of the 44 students that graduated in June were drafted by Major League Baseball and 37 went on to receive college baseball scholarships.
"Baseball is something that you don't know if you're going to be able to have that opportunity to play in the major leagues. But through education, these youngsters are going to have the opportunity to come to the United States, get scholarships and continue their studies by using baseball as a tool," Beltrán said.
"I understand that not all of them are going to live up to their dreams but all will have the opportunity to become a professional, one way or the other," he said.
Adry Torres is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Fox News Latino.
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