'Happy tears' for Indians' DR academy graduates

January 18th, 2020

CLEVELAND -- “It’s going to be an emotional day.”

When you think of a baseball academy, it’s easy to imagine the hours of practice prospects go through and the time spent in the weight room just so they can have a chance at reaching the Major Leagues. But the Indians have made sure that their young prospects who attended the organization's Academy in the Dominican Republic will walk away with a proper education. And on Saturday, the inaugural graduating class will walk across the stage to receive their high school diplomas.

“For me, it’s so important when you graduate,” said Miguel Jerez, a member of the Lake County Captains and 2018-19 graduating class. “It happens just once in your life, so it’s important in your life when you graduate and overcome yourself and reach a goal.”

The Indians began a formal education program in August 2018 that has thrived since moving into a state-of-the-art player development complex in April 2019, consisting of five classrooms with high-speed WiFi, smart projectors and a 35-computer lab. It was an idea made possible thanks to their education and language coordinator, Anna Bolton.

Bolton attended Virginia Tech University and planned to become an English teacher when she learned that one of her friends was teaching English to one of the Red Sox’s Minor League teams. Because of her love for baseball, it was an idea that never escaped her mind. She became an interpreter for the Indians in 2016, and by the end of '17, she was writing a proposal to the front office to create a position for her to help develop an education program that will reach down to the young talent in their Minor League systems.

“At the end of the day, we’re here for baseball,” Bolton said. “We’re here to win the World Series. … If we can communicate with our players better by having better English classes, we can coach them better and they become better players that can help us win the World Series. Especially now with all the analytics and all this that’s going into baseball, if we educate them better, and they can understand that better, it's easier for us to coach them, and they can become better players that'll help us win the World Series.”

Not only did the Indians agree with her pitch, but they jumped on board to help make sure this idea could become reality. Now, about two years later, a typical offseason day for a player at the Indians’ Dominican Baseball Academy begins at 8:30 a.m. for breakfast before attending a players’ meeting at 9:30 a.m. Then, they move to the agility field to stretch with the strength coaches, work out in the batting cages, go through their throwing programs and throw their bullpen sessions. Then, they hit the weight rooms and eat lunch. By then, it’s around 1:30 p.m., and the players get a little time to relax before their four-hour education block begins at 3:30 p.m., and includes math, English and science classes.

“I was blown away by the support and the eagerness and the money that the Indians have put behind this,” Bolton said. “From [owner and CEO] Paul [Dolan] and [president of baseball operations] Chris Antonetti fully being behind everything that I'm doing, all the way down to the field coordinator here in Dominican Republic, being supportive of making sure that I get enough class time with the guys and that we're canceling practice on Saturday so that everybody can go to the graduation.

“Personally, it means so much to me, and it's allowed us to achieve and let us grow leaps and bounds in just like a year and a half.”

Once students in the Dominican Republic finish their senior year, they are required to take the Dominican National Exams in order to graduate. Back in June, Indians prospect Angel Martinez skipped four days of his season to go take the tests and Bolton received a phone call informing her that Martinez had passed. It was then that Bolton realized just how emotional this graduation day will be.

“We had a huge celebration moment between the two of us, where we hugged it out,” Bolton said. “[We just felt] joy, relief. And then when I got in my car that night and drove back to the hotel: tears. I was just so happy and proud.”

Martinez is set to be the keynote speaker for his class of six graduates, including Yeury Gervacio, Marlin Made, Wilmer Mejia, Luis Peguero and Jerez.

“[My family and friends] are proud of me because there are a lot of players that want to get signed,” Jerez said. “And it’s an opportunity for me, for my goals, my life and my sport.”

“To the members of the graduating class, the education you have received and earned will assist you in your effort to become professional baseball players,” Dolan wrote in a note to be read at the ceremony. “The game is much more than the physical acts of throwing, catching and hitting a baseball. … I wish all of you good luck as you progress in your baseball careers and hope to see you some day in Cleveland in a Cleveland Indians uniform.”

Along with the six graduates, the program is also promoting 24 students to the next grade level (ninth through 12th grade).

“I am definitely going to be crying happy tears,” Bolton said. “But it's a lot of joy and relief. We did it, and I'm so proud of our organization and I'm so proud of these players, that we've been able to accomplish something. It's going to change their life. And it's going to change their kid's life, and it’s going to change their family's life. And yeah, there's going to be a lot of emotions.”