During our class trip to the Dominican Republic, we had the opportunity to tour the Los Angeles Dodgers renovated facility at Campo las Palmas. Here is a background on the renovation, the results, and how the new facility compares to other facilities on the island that we visited.
Campo Las Palmas Academy Background
The Campo Las Palmas Academy was the first baseball academy built in the Dominican Republic by a Major League Baseball organization. The Los Angeles Dodgers opened the doors to the academy in March of 1987, and the project was spearheaded by then owner Peter O’Malley, Vice President Ralph Avila, and General Manager Al Campanis. The facility was started with the goal of serving as a training and educational center for young baseball players who had the talent to play Major League Baseball for the Dodgers but needed time to develop before being sent to the United States.
When the facility was built, it was the first of its kind and has since then served as a catalyst for other teams to open developmental academies. Since its opening, all 29 other major league teams plus a Japanese Academy have opened. Of the 30 academies, 27 are located between Boca Chica and San Pedro Macoris, with only the Padres, Cardinals, and Athletics outside of the main “strip”. This is a testament to the Dodgers as the academies sprung up around where the complex at Las Palmas in Guerra already was. Since 2006, 15 new academies have been built at an average cost of $4 million dollars, but ranging up to $10 million dollars, significantly above the original cost of Campo Las Palmas at $785,000. According to Major League Baseball, the academies contribute more than $90 million per year into the local economy in the form of bonuses to players, and this figure does not include wages paid to employees at the academies. The $90 million in bonuses is paid to the between 450-500 players signed per year by MLB clubs. While standards of facilities differ, the academies are meant to not only prepare players for a future career in the MLB, but many have implemented programs that offer English classes, basic education courses, American culture classes, and other topics.
The Dodgers facility at Campo Las Palmas was well known as being a great talent producer throughout the majority of the time it has been around. The complex has produced major league players such as Pedro Martinez, Jose Offerman, Willy Aybar, Adrian Beltre, and Raul Mondesi. Since opening, the facility has had players from 28 countries come and go through the development process. However, when Frank McCourt purchased the team in 2004 he opted to slash the budget for the facility, leading to a lack of focus on the facility as a developmental complex. In 2009, the Dodgers ranked last in the MLB in international signings and the facility was beginning to run down. When ownership led by the Guggenheim Group took over, they decided to reinvest time and energy into the complex. The goal was to make the organization that had created international scouting back into an attractive destination for prospects and scouts. The ownership group decided a large scale renovation of the complex was necessary.
Campo Las Palmas Academy Renovation
In 2015 the Los Angeles Dodgers organization committed $8 million dollars to the renovation and expansion of the Campo Las Palmas facility. The goal of the project was to retain the tropical campus feel similar to the Dodgers facilities in Florida but infuse state-of-the-art technology, a premier training center, and facilities that made both players and staff feel at home. Janet Marie Smith, well known for her work with renovations at Fenway Park, Camden Yards, and Dodger Stadium was tasked with overseeing the project.
The goal of the Campo Las Palmas renovations was to give the Dodgers organization the best facility in the Dominican Republic to improve players abilities, but also to enhance their lives. The renovations covered the entire 70-acre facility, and now gives 100,000 square feet of indoor space to the team. Overall, the Dodgers renovation provided the Academy 3 ½ fields, covered areas for batting and infield practice, running track, conditioning and weight room, clubhouse training areas, four classrooms, and a social area in what used to be the batting cage. On the off the field side, there are now offices for the Dodgers international scouting department, on-site housing for 96 players and 19 coaches, an updated dining hall which incorporates an organic nutritional food program, a fruit and vegetable garden, and finally a community Little League field inside the academy walls for local children. Each of the new buildings is named after a leader in Dodgers baseball in the Dominican Republic including the Walter O’Malley Headquarters, the Avila Command Post, Jackie Robinson Hall, Roy Campanella Clubhouse, Tommy Lasorda Dining Hall. Even the classrooms are named after leaders such as Dodgers Hall of Fame Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin.
The Guggenheim Baseball Management Corporation, owners of the Dodgers, committed to turning prospects into educated professionals. The team’s Jackie Robinson Hall serves as the location where players learn English and even can watch English movies to learn more about culture. To improve English classes, the Dodgers hired professors to teach English opposed to local teachers as a way of improving the education level. Furthermore, the Jackie Robinson building was built with a kitchen inside and has served as a great location for families of players, often from far away, to have home cooked meals made for them. Senior Facility Manager, Jesus Negrette recounted a recent time when a player from Venezuela’s family was up visiting, and they were able to make him authentic Venezuelan food. This addition is an example of the thoughts the Dodgers had on not only improving players abilities but giving opportunities for enjoyment in the new facility The implementation of an Organic Garden project was also a focus during the renovation and led by Director of Player Development Gabe Kapler. The goal of the garden is to have a sustainable place for producing fruits and vegetables for every meal provided to the athletes. Such an emphasis was put on the project that the team brought in experts on tropical growth.
While the renovation was well needed and provided improved accommodations to players, there was a deeper reason for the implementation. The MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement which went into effect in 2017, puts a new limit on how much you can spend on players internationally, and inherently also limits the number of prospects you can bring into the facility. The Dodgers goal, as stated by International Director of Player Development Duncan Webb, is “investment in facilities, coaches, and training will bring a competitive edge to the Dodgers, and improve our ability to produce top talent.”
How Does The Los Angeles Dodgers Renovated Facility Compare
During our time spent in the Dominican Republic, we had the opportunity to visit the Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, and New York Mets Facilities. All three offered different in looks at how facilities are being constructed in the Dominican Republic, and how player development can slightly differ.
The Seattle Mariners completed their complex in Boca Chica in 2014, at a cost of $7 million dollars with the hope of attracting top talent in the area. Prior to the move to the new complex, the Mariners shared a portion of the Campo Las Palmas facility with the Dodgers. The new facility features three full-sized fields, living quarters for 80 prospects at a time, classrooms, and a computer lab to help players educationally. As is typical in the DSL, the field dimensions were created to be the same as the Major League Park, Safeco Field in Seattle, and the name of the main field is Ken Griffey Jr. Field.
While it is a very clean complex, the facility comes from the same “cookie-cutter” approach that many of the newer facilities have where the same layout from other recent facilities was used. The Twins Academy, for example, is an exact replica of the Mariners. These complexes provide all the amenities needed but lack a personal touch as was seen with the Dodgers.
San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres completed their facility in Najayo in 2008 at a cost of $10 million dollars. While the facility lies only 30 miles from Santo Domingo, it feels like it’s in a different world as chaos from cars and wandering people are not present. The facility produces a singular focus on baseball free of other distractions present at the other 27 MLB facilities and helps with secrecy from other teams.
The spacious facility includes four main structures, two and a half fields, and batting cages. The facility itself feels more tropical resort than baseball academy. The main structure is a two-story housing unit which can accommodate the 64 players. Within the main structure, there are meeting rooms, recreation room, and a media room. There is a three story main business building which has a space for meeting and administrative offices on the top floor, space for coaches and trainers on the second floor, and the first floor with a state-of-the-art gym and rehab room and clubhouse. There are 6 coaches and 25 support staff that are full time at the facility.
When speaking with a trainer at the facility, he explained that as a result of the Padres large spending spree, $80 million dollars on prospects in 2016, there is a larger emphasis put on development than other teams in the Dominican Republic. The goal of the facility goes far beyond teaching baseball skills, it goes all the way to the gym where trainers work with players on basic movements and building up of strength in the gym. There also is a focus on teaching culture to players, specifically the younger group, to prepare them for the jump to the Minor Leagues in the US. An interesting note was that there are differences in managing styles for all of the different countries, and leaders must be adept at handling that. For example, the players from Venezuela respond differently to teaching styles than players from the Dominican Republic or Columbia.
New York Mets
The New York Mets opened their facility in 2008 at a cost of $8 million dollars in Boca Chica. The Mets facility to features two playing fields, one standard and one identical to Citi Field in New York. In addition, the facility features two bunting fields and batting cages, four pitching mounds, a large administrative office and meeting room section, classrooms, computer lab, and a large dining area. The facility serves as a blend between a new complex yet still retains unique features.
One of the most notable features implemented at the Mets complex is the investment in education, a project started by current General Manager and former Dominican Republic MLB office head, Sandy Alderson. The continuing education program is one of 6 major league baseball academy programs to maintain a continuing education program that helps players earn their diplomas in secondary education while pursuing a professional baseball career. This aspect is critical due to the education deficiency in the Dominican Republic. The program is supported through a partnership with the University of Central Florida, which gives current students the opportunity to spend time teaching at the facility.
The trip to the Dominican Republic gave the SMBA class of 2018 a great look at how baseball academies are run, and how different organizations are doing things differently. The Dodgers, the pioneers of academies, successfully completed a renovation to there academy reclaiming there spot as one of the top facilities in the area, and refocusing efforts onto making sure players grow on the field and off. The Mets, Padres, and Mariners give three different views on how to successfully run academies