Cardinals celebrate Latin America Class of '19

Trio of future St. Louis hopefuls earn high school diplomas in Dominican Republic ceremony

January 30th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- Prospects at the Cardinals’ Latin America facility in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, go through hours of practice on the field and in the weight room in hopes they’ll one day reach the Major Leagues.

But the Cardinals also make sure that those prospects spend time in the classroom, so they’re equipped with an education once their time at the academy is done. And last week, three Cardinals players earned their high school diploma as part of the education program that St. Louis put in place four years ago.

After last year’s inaugural graduation class was honored at the Cardinals' facility, the club participated in a league-wide graduation ceremony this year. On Friday, 88 graduating players across 27 teams gathered in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to celebrate the Class of 2019. Three of those players are Cardinals -- pitcher Ludwin Jimenez, outfielder Claudio Ramirez and outfielder Adanson Cruz. Catcher Diowill Burgos finished classes with the Cardinals but walked with the Marlins after St. Louis traded him for Austin Dean on Jan. 14.

Cardinals general manager Mike Girsch, assistant general manager Moisés Rodríguez, special assistant to the general manager Matt Slater and director of international operations Luis Morales, along with some of the academy staff, were at the ceremony.

“It was a great event,” Morales said. “We have to be there for these players. And thanks to ownership and [president of baseball operations John] Mozeliak, we can keep the facility open longer and can get the players started in the program.”

The Cardinals began this program because they wanted to ensure that players who drop out of school to pursue their baseball dream receive a full off-the-field education, too, especially knowing that very few of these players will advance to an affiliate in the United States. With the help of Morales and Rodríguez, the Cardinals expanded coursework beyond the English classes and cultural-assimilation workshops that had been previously offered.

Administrator Aaron Rodriguez and assistant Esmeralda Hernandez are integral to the day-to-day operations for the program, and the Cardinals hired instructors to come to the academy. The facility is now open for more weeks out of the year, and the players show up at the complex in January to start classes. Then, when baseball activities and seasons begin, players go to school twice a week in addition to their workouts and games.

“They spend a lot of time here,” Morales said. “But the idea for us is once the players travel to the U.S., they have all this information that will be helpful for them to pursue their career in the United States.”

In addition to the three graduates this year, Morales said there are around 30 players in the academy working toward their diploma. With the second year of graduates, the younger players are starting to see the value in the program, even with the level of commitment that comes with it. The hope is that no matter what comes next -- the next level of baseball or a life outside of baseball -- the focus on education will pay off for all the players in the organization.

“We started this around four years ago, and I think in the beginning, some of them were not very enthusiastic,” Morales said. “But I think now that we’re finally graduating players, the kids are more into it. They see the pictures of their teammates graduating, so I think they now are starting to realize how important it is.”