It is good to be back with Ralph Avila. I want to re-welcome Ralph to the Dodger organization, as he has dedicated his life to baseball, and spent so many wonderful years as a Dodger.
Many years ago, Peter O’Malley called upon Ralph to design and operate a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. This academy was the first of its kind, and has changed the face of baseball forever. Now, most teams have at the very least a presence in the Dominican, and try to sign and develop young talent year-round. Ralph was a pioneer, and is responsible for the development of many Dodgers.
Ralph opened the doors to Campo Las Palmas just over 20 years ago on March 21, 1987. It is located in the town of Guerra, just east of the Dominican Republic’s capital city of Santo Domingo. At breakfast this morning, Ralph was recounting the trip he took with Peter O’Malley when they found the land on which it now sits.
It has since been replicated by numerous teams throughout baseball. Located on 75 acres of land, the academy is equipped with two full and two half baseball fields, a dining room, kitchen, recreation room and two two-story dormitories that accommodate up to 100 players.
In addition to their baseball instruction, Dodger prospects receive academic instruction, including English lessons. There are also lessons on American culture and assistance in dealing with situations that will confront the players when they arrive in the United States.
Here is a partial list of the 29 players that made the big leagues who developed at Campo Las Pamlas under Ralph’s leadership:
Pedro Martinez, Mariano Duncan, Jose Offerman, Raul Mondesi, Ramon Martinez, Omar Daal, Ismael Valdez, Pedro Astacio, Alfredo Gonzalez, Angel Pena, Jose Vizciano, Henry Rodriguez, Miguel Cairo, Roger Cedeno and Henry Blanco, Franquelis Osoria and Felix Rodriguez.
Last week I had the honor of visiting Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana. I was asked to deliver the keynote speech at the 2006 Eighth Air Force Outstanding Airmen of the Year Banquet by my good friend, Lt. General Kevin Chilton. Lt. General Chilton is an inspiring leader, a former astronaut and a great American whom I am proud to call my friend. It was a very special visit, as I had the opportunity to express my sincere gratitude, appreciation and respect to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces, the people who wear the uniform of the greatest country in the world.
The banquet’s theme was, Every Generation has its Heroes, and featured brave airmen from World War II, as well as today. Those people being honored are my heroes, as are the people who put their lives on the line to protect our country, who fight for the ideal of freedom, and who represent the citizens of our land, the American soldiers, airmen, marines and midshipmen.
I had the unique opportunity to climb inside the cockpit of an A10, and fly in a B52 simulator (yes I landed safely). The banquet was a success and everyone had a great time. We were able to break bread and have a few laughs; laughter is the food for the soul. When you can laugh, you can forget any problems you may have in life. Those airmen made me laugh, and for that I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.
I managed in the big leagues for 20 years, and I had to endure many bad call by umpires, so I know how my good friend Sadaharu Oh felt after the terrible call in their game against Team USA. I also know how Paquin Estrada felt after the home run that was ruled a double, a call that was made by the same umpire that upheld the appeal at third base when the USA played Japan.
I do not want the fans in Japan, or in Mexico, to think that these calls were made because the umpire is American. The umpire that made those calls has had a reputation for many years of being controversial. In fact, he has created controversy for many American teams, and managers, including me.
Before I go any further, I want to congratulate all the umpires who do an outstanding job of calling games fairly.
As it has turned out, Sadaharu Oh and his Japanese team will advance to the semi finals and the American team will not. I salute the Japanese team for conducting themselves in a professional manner throughout this tournament, and I wish them luck in the semi finals. But Korea is hot, and advancing to the finals wont be easy.
I would also like to congratulate Commissioner Bud Selig, Bob DuPuy, Paul Archey, Pat Courtney and Jim Small for their efforts and contributions to the Classic. I would also like to thank the Players Union, and all the players who played in the Classic for helping to make the tournament a tremendous success. I hope they understand that they are creating history by playing in the inaugural tournament.
I was very disheartened by the players who had the opportunity to play and failed to do so.
The press were very generous to give me the time and opportunities to promote awareness for the Classic, and to spread the word baseball around the nation, and around the globe. The Commissioner envisions the globalization of baseball, something that is being proven by this classic. I predict that in 10 to 15 years, many more teams will be playing the future WBC’s.
Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank Frank and Jamie McCourt for allowing me to accept the position of Ambassador, and for affording me the time to perform my duties as such. It has been an honor and a privilege to represent the game, and I hope I did so with class, dignity and character. I know I have been pulled away from my first love, dodger baseball, but as it has been said about me before, Dodger Stadium was his address, but every ballpark was his home.
On the field at the Tokyo Dome before the opener of the World Baseball Classic, from left to right: John McHale Jr., Bob DuPuy, me and Peter O’Malley.
With Japan’s superstar during the first round of the World Baseball Classic at the Tokyo Dome.
Having been designated as the Ambassador At Large for the inaugural World Baseball Classic, I want to relate my experiences to you bloggers and baseball fans. I just returned from Japan, the site for the Pool A play, which consisted of Japan, Korea, China and Chinese Taipei. Because of the time difference, Pool A had a four-day head start, with the first game played on the 3rd.
I attended all the games with Major League Baseball officials Bob DuPuy, who is overseeing the Classic, Paul Archey, Pat Courtney and Jim Small, along with my sidekick, Acey Kohrogi who runs the Dodger?s Asian baseball program. Everyone involved did a tremendous job, as the games were exciting, highly competitive and fun.
Korea emerged from the first round as the Pool A winner and Japan placed second as the Pool A runner-up with both teams advancing to the second round of play in Anaheim, California. After losing to Korea in the final game, Japan?s manager, the legendary manager Sadaharu Oh said that his team will get their revenge on Korea in Anaheim, and I would like to believe him. However, Korea has some great Major Leaguers, including current Dodger pitcher Jae Seo, first baseman Hee-Soep Choi and former Dodger Chan-HoPark. And knowing those guys, they won?t roll over.
It was also great to see how much progress China has made. In 2002, Acey and I traveled to Beijing where I threw out the first pitch of their first-ever championship game of their new professional league. This is why the Classic is so great; to see countries like China working hard to improve and be ready for international play is just heart-warming. I can remember going to Japan in 1965 on an assignment from Walter O?Malley. I was to work with the Tokyo Giants for three weeks of their spring training. While there we covered every fundamental of the game. Now, the Tokyo Giants have quite a few players that are more than able to play in Major League Baseball.
While in Japan, I was surprised and happy to see two old friends: the incomparable Peter O?Malley, former owner of the dodgers and a long time supporter of international baseball, and Bobby Valentine, the manager of the Chiba Lotte Mariners who did a fantastic job guiding that team to a Japanese World Series championship. Bobby is a supporter of international baseball as well, and he truly believes that his Marines could have beaten the White Sox if a true world series had been played.
I am now off to Arizona to see games in Pool B, which consists of Team USA (my favorite) Mexico, Canada and South Africa. The two teams that emerge from this bracket will face Korea and Japan in Anaheim. And I know those games, as well as the games in Pool C and Pool D will be hard nosed baseball at its best. Millions of people know about it already, and millions more will learn shortly that this tournament is great for the game of baseball, and even greater for the hundreds of millions of fans across the globe. For all those doubters out there, be aware that the players who are playing for their countries will return to their training camps better prepared for the season because they are now playing ball against the best players in the world.
For those who say this Classic is nothing but a promotion, pay close attention to this: there is no greater feeling then having the opportunity to represent your country. When I put on the uniform for Team USA in the Olympics, I felt a tremendous amount of pride and patriotism. I wore the uniform of the United States Army, and wearing the USA jersey was on par with that.
How can anyone criticize a guy for wanting to represent his country?
I want to end this blog by saluting Bud Selig and the Player?s Association for making this Classic happen. Now I leave it to you fans to make it successful by giving it your full support.