TORONTO -- Athletes in the Dominican Republic often don't have a lot of options at their disposal. But that is something the Bautista Family Education Fund is hoping to change.
The charity was formed two years ago under the guidance of Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista, and came to the forefront earlier this summer with the creation of an inaugural golf tournament. The goal is to provide funding to young Dominican players so they can pursue a post-secondary education.
Too often, players from the Dominican are forced to take a small signing bonus and quit school to join an academy or instead leave the game entirely. Bautista would like to see the options increased so that athletes can still have a bright future -- even if playing baseball for a living doesn't work out.
"The fund has one purpose," Bautista said recently. "It's trying to allow kids the opportunity to continue their education at the college level, while still being student-athletes. We don't give the money to them. We try to match them with colleges and their needs, and [we hope to help] create a good opportunity for them to finish their college education at the same time while they're playing. And whatever the college or university can't afford to help them with, that's where we step in."
Hispanic Heritage Month, which kicked off last Sunday, provides an opportunity to shed some light on baseball players who are going the extra mile to make a contribution in the community. Bautista grew up in a middle-class household, and was fortunate enough to receive a post-secondary education at Chipola Junior College in Florida. But he knows all too well the hardships many of his fellow countrymen have faced over the years.
That's one of the main reasons why Bautista has decided to follow in the footsteps of Don Odermann, who ran the Latin Athletes Education Fund, to increase financing to student-athletes. Odermann has been forced to step aside from his fund because of health issues. But its foundation has been set, and other charities have the ability to step in and fill the void.
Even though Bautista didn't necessarily grow up extremely poor, it was Odermann who helped provided him with the opportunity to go to school. That allowed Bautista to turn down a small signing bonus and continue his education. It's extremely important, because a lot of the kids who take bonuses and quit school often end up on the street because baseball didn't work out as a career and there's nowhere else to turn.
"I only got to this point in my life and my career because somebody opened some doors for me, and that's exactly what I'm trying to do for other people," Bautista said. "Now that I've gotten here, and I'm enjoying some success and I have the ability to help others, I feel like it's something that I'm supposed to do."
Bautista's education fund initially focused exclusively on youth in the Dominican Republic, but has since grown and recently assisted its first Canadian athlete, as well. The mission is to provide support to athletes in a variety of sports played at the university level.
The Bautista Family Education Fund has already assisted 14 players, with more on the way. The golf tournament, held in late August, is expected to go a long way toward increasing the amount of funding available, while Bautista has also donated large sums of his own money to the cause. It's a noble effort for a player who doesn't want to forget his roots and the opportunities presented to him on the road to the Major Leagues.
"[I'm] just figuring out a way to start to give kids some hope and another option [for] what they can do," said Bautista, "instead of having that goal in mind 100 percent of the time with trying to become a professional athlete.
"It's something I look forward to doing in the future. ... I think it's a good way to start, by helping those that are close to get their college education and set an example for more kids to follow, and in the future, figure out a way to influence them and help them out early on in their lifetime."
Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.