Friday will be another special day at the Orioles’ Dominican Academy, the state-of-the-art 22 1/2-acre complex that held an opening ceremony in San Antonio de Guerra less than a month ago.
Five players in Baltimore’s system -- four of whom are natives of the Dominican Republic and another from Venezuela -- will be graduating from the team’s international high school program. They’ll be celebrated during the first graduation ceremony to take place at the academy.
“I’ve been dreaming about this for a couple of years now,” said Anaíma García, the Orioles’ coordinator of intercultural education. “It’s quite the milestone for us.”
García was hired by the Orioles in February 2020. Later that year, she helped launch the international high school program.
So what exactly is this program?
When Baltimore (or any team) signs players from the international market -- a primary focus for O’s general manager Mike Elias and his staff since his hiring in November 2018 -- the teenage youngsters have often not yet attained a high school-level education. Sometimes, they never complete their schooling after embarking on the start of their professional baseball career.
But for those who now sign with the Orioles, it’s become easier for that not to be the case.
The team’s optional international high school program affords those players an opportunity to complete their basic education. At any time, they can pick up at their last completed grade level and begin taking courses on mathematics, language arts, history and more.
Some of the learning occurs via in-person classes, but much of it is done virtually. The online curriculum is accessible 24/7, allowing players to complete the work during breaks in their baseball schedule, as well as to meet with tutors via Zoom calls.
The curriculum is designed in Spanish. However, there’s also a supplemental program for players to learn English as a second language, should they choose to do so.
“I feel that this opportunity that the players are given helps them now and then helps them later,” García said. “They all have different paths in their careers. Their careers might end sooner than expected. And I feel that this is an opportunity for them to keep their doors open and their futures open.”
Prior to joining the Orioles, García saw the importance of education for international players firsthand while working for MLB, where she had stints as education coordinator (2016-18) and labor relations and player programs coordinator (‘18-20).
“It was pretty shocking to me to have former players approach me and say, ‘I would like to get a job, because I’m out of baseball right now,’ and them not having any marketable skills that we could help them put together a résumé and find something to do,” García said.
Those who complete the Orioles’ international high school program will be in a much better position should baseball not work out long term -- or even if it does.
“Whatever life has after baseball, whenever that is, they’re able to land on two feet,” García said.
So far, the club’s international high school program has graduated 12 players -- seven still playing in the Orioles’ system, three pursuing higher education and two seeking employment in baseball. The first graduate was Venezuelan infielder Noelberth Romero, who had an on-field graduation while playing for Single-A Delmarva last August.
The five players who will graduate at Friday’s Dominican Academy ceremony are:
RHP Bryan Bautista (19, signed out of Santo Domingo, D.R., in December 2021)
RHP Randy Berigüete (21, signed out of Santo Domingo, D.R., in July 2019)
OF Wilmer Feliciano (19, signed out of Consuelo, D.R., in January 2021)
RHP Miguel Mesa (21, signed out of Pueblo Viejo, D.R., in January 2022)
RHP Anthony Morillo (22, signed out of Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela in June 2019)
Mesa, who pitched last season in both the Dominican Summer League and the Florida Complex League, was named the valedictorian of the graduating class.
García believes the program’s future participation numbers will be boosted by the new Dominican Academy, where players can stay and have dedicated learning spaces and equipment at their disposal. However, there are already plenty more players nearing completion of the program.
Of the 19 currently participating in the international high school program, nine are on track to graduate this summer. Among that group is 19-year-old catcher Samuel Basallo, the No. 17 overall prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline.
“Being able to graduate, that is one of the biggest satisfactions I’m getting right now for this program,” García said. “When you’re able to see them in this ceremony and just tell them, ‘You did it, you accomplished it,’ and celebrate that amongst their peers...it’s just one of those things you dream of doing.”