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Baseball Academy helped Correa blossom

SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Carlos Correa is a product of his environment, and few people have been prouder of that assertion. Correa, who became the first overall selection in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft on Monday, credited his unorthodox high school environment for helping him mold his talent.

The shortstop attended the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, an institution in his homeland that provides both baseball instruction and an exacting academic curriculum. That school -- one of three Urban Youth Academies affiliated with Major League Baseball -- helped provide the push Correa needed.

But it was never easy. On Monday, Correa reflected on all the time that he spent commuting back-and-forth to his school and all the energy he had spent on getting to this point. It all came down to desire, he said, a trait passed down by his father, Carlos Sr., and focused by his crystal-clear ambitions.

"My development down there was great -- they worked hard with me on all the little things that I was missing," said Correa of his time at the Academy. "Every day when I was at school, I [woke up] at 5 o'clock in the morning to go to school, and then I arrived home at 6 p.m. after doing some work at the school and taking classes. ... Then I'd go back home, and my father works with me. He throws me [batting practice and] he hits me some ground balls. All the sacrifices were awesome. It pays off."

Correa, the first Puerto Rican player to be selected atop the Draft in Major League history, was a surprise choice by the Astros, and the infielder admitted on Monday that he didn't expect to be picked so high. Correa credited his father, a construction worker, for teaching him the value of hard work and the meaning of sacrifice.

And when the younger Correa is asked how he found such a reserve of energy and ambition, he doesn't take long to respond. Some of it was natural, he said, and the rest was hard work.

"I just want to be a big leaguer and be a Hall of Famer," Correa said. "The energy comes from that, working hard to be the best that you can. That's what I've been doing all season long.

"There are some people saying that I will be a third baseman. I think I have the ability, and I will work hard. I want to be at shortstop in the big leagues, and I want to be one of the best."

Correa, a quick-twitch athlete who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 190 pounds, has all of the natural ingredients to reach that lofty goal. Several analysts think he will hit for average and power, and the obvious comparisons have been made to superstar Alex Rodriguez and fellow infield prospect Manny Machado.

But that's not the player Correa wants to be. The 17-year-old said several times on Monday that he admires Derek Jeter not just for his ability, but for the person he is away from the field. Another role model, countryman Ivan Rodriguez, was on hand Monday to share Correa's moment of glory.

"Right now, it's the beginning of a lot of good things for him," said Rodriguez. "He's going to be a pro, so now he has to concentrate on what he needs to do to put himself in good shape to go to the Minor Leagues. ... He has the talent to be in the Major Leagues pretty soon. It's all on him. He needs to maintain the discipline that he has day in and day out. If he does that, he's going to be good."

Correa and Rodriguez spent some time talking on Monday, and the veteran imparted whatever wisdom he could to the emerging talent. The one thing Rodriguez took away, the catching great said, is that Correa can be the face of Puerto Rican baseball -- a high compliment from one of the game's elder statesman.

"The kid has a lot of talent; he's going to be good," said Rodriguez of the youngster. "With Correa in the news today, it's going to give us more attention for next year and the following years to go there and look for more talent. They really have some talent, and we've got to go there and look for it."

Correa's prep teammate, Jesmuel Valentin, was selected by the Dodgers in Monday's Compensation Round A, giving the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy another famous alumnus. Several more players are expected to be taken from the Urban Youth Academies over the next few days, rounding out the accomplishment.

Major League Baseball already operates academies in Houston and Compton, Calif., and another facility is scheduled to open in New Orleans later in the summer. The Puerto Rico academy is a bit different in that it offers a full high school curriculum in addition to baseball tutoring.

Correa, inevitably, is asked about how the Draft will change his life. The shortstop is eligible for a payday that could bring him as much as $7.2 million, a truly life-changing sum for anyone. But to his credit, Correa is already thinking about the next challenge and the next accomplishment on the horizon.

"The first thing I'm going to do is to help my family, help with their debts, and then I'm going to think about me," said Correa of his plans for his financial windfall. "I'm not laying back on the money I'm going to receive from being the first pick. I just want to work hard. The real money is in the big leagues, and I will work hard to be there and to be in the Hall of Fame. That's what I want from baseball."

Houston Astros