BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic -- The broken-down building with the rusted metal roof sits beyond the left-field wall of Adrián Beltré Field. The property around it looks like it’s ready to be condemned or fall down on its own.
Rangers vice president Kelli Fischer pointed to the building with the rusty roof and said: “That was our batting cage.”
Not anymore. The Rangers' new Baseball Academy is now about 100 yards away and seemingly 100 years into the future from the old facility.
“We’ve gone from the worst to the best,” Fischer said on Friday morning, as the Rangers celebrated the official opening of their $12.5 million Baseball Academy just outside the seaside city of Boca Chica on the Caribbean side of the Dominican Republic.
Dominican president Danilo Medina was in attendance for the opening ceremony, as was Robin Bernstein, the United States ambassador to the island nation that has long become one of the top producers of Major League talent.
“This is a great day for the Texas Rangers and the Dominican Republic,” Rangers owner Ray Davis said. “This is a significant investment for us. We expect big returns as this helps us develop great baseball players. We are committed to being a meaningful member of your community and your country for a very long time.”
The Academy is part of a significant series of capital improvements undertaken by the Rangers since an ownership group led by Davis, Bob Simpson and Neil Leibman took over in 2010. The ultimate achievement will be the opening of the Globe Life Field next March, but the Rangers' new Academy in the D.R. is another jewel in the crown.
“You are always looking for ways to separate yourself,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “We are an organization that tries to treat people well. That’s why we are making a commitment to our young players and this facility, to have a program that matches our intentions.”
Getting the new academy built took longer than the new ballpark in Arlington. It required some heavy lifting for more than seven years by a dedicated group spearheaded by Fischer, the Rangers' chief financial officer, assistant general manager Mike Daly and Paul Kruger, director of Minor League operations.
The Rangers have had a long history of being aggressive in adding talent from Latin America. Their current 40-man roster includes four players signed out of the Dominican: pitchers Jose Leclerc and Emmanuel Clase, first baseman Ronald Guzman and outfielder Nomar Mazara. Seven of their Top 30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, are from the Dominican Republic.
But their facilities have not always matched their talent. That’s because the Rangers have always leased their facilities from local landlords and had to compete with other clubs for the best spots. Leased facilities just don’t have the same standards and quality as those owned outright by teams. The Rangers decided in 2012 to buy some land and build their own complex -- but that wasn’t easy.
They searched all over the Dominican for the right spot before purchasing a 24-acre parcel outside of Boca Chica in June 2016. Then came all the necessary administrative, legal and financial details to work through before ground-breaking took place on Sept. 21, 2017.
All Major League clubs have an Academy in the Dominican, and the Rangers toured as many of them as possible to see who had the best facilities. The Rockies' and Mets' facilities were among those that stood out.
“They looked at everything they did right and tried to do it better,” Fischer said. “We feel we achieved it.”
The Rangers' Academy in the Dominican ranks right there with their Spring Training facility as far as being state-of-art quality. Rangers medical director Jamie Reed personally supervised the design of the training room and Globe Life Park head groundskeeper Dennis Klein oversaw the installation and maintenance of the playing fields.
Fischer, Kruger and Daly studied every possible detail to make sure the Rangers had everything they needed to develop their Dominican talent. This is an academy that will be used almost the entire year except during Spring Training and Instructional League held in Arizona and two weeks of down time around the holidays.
The complex includes two full fields and another still under construction, an 18,500 square-foot clubhouse with lockers for 100 players, a 2,500 square-foot weight room, a 10,000 square-foot batting cage and a 30,000 square-foot dormitory for 96 players and 29 staff members. The players sleep six to a room in three bunk beds.
“It was 40 to a room in our old facility,” Fischer said.
There is the high-tech video and computer equipment that has become popular at all levels of the industry. Trackman and other instructional devices can be employed a daily workout in the Dominican Republic and have the results read or viewed instantly back at the Rangers front offices in Arlington.
There is also a significant educational component to the Academy. Players are signed in the Dominican at the age of 16 and often lack the same education as players who go through the MLB Draft in the United States.
To change that, the Rangers have once again partnered with Buckner International, a nonprofit based in Dallas dedicated to transforming the lives of orphans, vulnerable children, families and senior citizens. Buckner is already a partner in the West Dallas Youth Academy and will take an active on-site role in working with Rangers players in the Dominican.
Many of the players in the Academy will never reach the Majors, but they will have the chance to earn their GED and other skills needed to succeed beyond baseball.
“While we are rooting for all the student athletes at the Rangers Academy to make it to the Majors, our goal is to prepare players for an alternative plan outside baseball where they are able to succeed in life after the Academy,” said Dr. Albert Reyes, president of Buckner International. “It’s a great step toward investing back into an impoverished country that has produced more than 700 players.”
Kruger said that Latin American players who learn life and social skills outside of baseball often have a better chance of succeeding because they have an easier time adjusting when it comes time to play in the U.S.
“They are the ones who had the most success,” Kruger said. “We want that for all our players.”
Life in the Dominican Republic has come a long way since Rangers hitting coach Luis Ortiz grew up here swinging at discarded tires and hitting sunflower seeds with a broomstick. Veteran pitcher Edinson Vólquez remembered breaking into professional baseball in 2001 at the Rangers academy in La Romano, where the living quarters were located underneath the stadium stands.
Now the Rangers have something special to show young players during the highly-competitive recruiting environment of Dominican talent.
“It plays a role on some level,” Daniels said. “Obviously, the economics and the opportunity are huge. But it’s pretty well understood around [the Dominican] which teams are most committed to developing players.”