Nutting pledges to upgrade Dominican facility
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ST. LOUIS -- Bob Nutting, the Pirates' principal owner, returned from upper management's three-day mission to the Dominican Republic with three significant impressions:
1. The team must build a new baseball academy there or upgrade its existing one, and it will do one or the other, he pledged.
2. The scouts the team employs in the Dominican and across Latin America are "great people and professionals," as he put it, but they could benefit from greater resources and will receive them.
3. The impoverished Dominican society makes for a sobering contrast to the multimillion-dollar world of Major League Baseball.
Taking the latter point first, Nutting sounded genuinely moved, in particular, by a two-room schoolhouse made of cement blocks with no windows, just across the parking lot from the baseball academy the Pirates rent.
"To see the standard of living ... it's something none of us has the opportunity to see here," he said yesterday, the day after returning home. "It does raise the responsibility, I think, that we have as the Pirates and, frankly, all of baseball. Only a handful of players out of our program will make it, but we can help all of them get the best chance to succeed in life."
Despite that poverty, the Dominican produces a wealth of baseball talent, now more than any country other than the United States. An MLB survey last year showed that 85 players were Dominican-born, 11 percent of the total.
Players outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico are exempt from the draft and can be signed by any team as young as age 16. Largely because of that open market, MLB teams have become increasingly aggressive in signing and developing players in baseball-mad Latin America.
The Pirates, having acknowledged a shortfall there, aimed their trip at plotting a course to improve in all facets. Nutting was accompanied to Santo Domingo on Sunday by CEO Kevin McClatchy, general manager Dave Littlefield and PNC Park operations manager Dennis DaPra, and the foursome spent the next three days examining facilities, scouting and training.
The top priority, apparently, was checking out the Pirates' rented facility, one that has not had a favorable reputation. The tour included watching a workout of signed prospects, as well as examining the dorm-type living quarters and cafeteria.
Nutting did not sound satisfied with the latter.
"My impression is that we have an adequate facility, but we have an opportunity to improve it," he said. "Whether that means a move to a completely new facility or upgrading the existing one, it really is early in the cycle to make a specific decision."
There is a strong feeling within the organization that a new, state-of-the-art facility will be the choice.
The group also met with Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo, special assistant Louie Eljaua and field coordinator Euclides Rojas.
"I have confidence they'll get the job done," Nutting said.
He added that he will make their jobs easier by providing "best-of-class tools," though he did not elaborate.
The Pirates have not been among the top spenders in Latin America in recent years, at least not in competing for the most expensive individual players. But Nutting recently authorized a 50 percent increase in the signing budget.
Littlefield, who coordinated the trip and had a follow-up talk with Nutting about it yesterday, described it as a positive step.
"Most of all, it's good to have that support and for ownership to have a hands-on feel for how the process there works," he said. "We're very pleased with the people we have on board and feel we're heading in the right direction. But, as it's been well documented, it takes time for those players to move up the ladder."
"It's a long cycle," he said. "What we hope to do is, one, accelerate the process and, two, make this an investment that pays for years to come."
First Published May 23, 2007 11:35 pm