You may have already read about a forum that was held Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park.   I just wanted to share a few highlights and a few thoughts in case you hadn't.A $100 admission (a charitable donation to the Foundation to be Named Later) entitled you to witness, and potentially ask questions of, a group discussion about changes in baseball organizations' philosophies and actions regarding the development of Latin American players.   The featured speakers were Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, New York Mets GM Omar Minaya, and three major league players, Carlos Pena of the Tampa Bay Rays, Manny Delcarmen of the Red Sox and Bronson Arroyo of the Cincinnati Reds.Before I get to the truly important stuff I must say as a Met fan who believes strongly the team needs to add viable major league pitching for 2010, I was intrigued by the thought of Minaya and the rumored-to-be-traded Arroyo being in the same room.   While I lack the utmost confidence in Omar, I felt reasonably certain that he could cozy up to Arroyo without crossing the lines of tampering, and according to reports at least Minaya engaged Arroyo specifically on one topic:
  • (from mlb.com) Minaya represents many aspects of the international sphere. Baseball's first Hispanic GM, he was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Queens, N.Y., played Minor League baseball in the U.S. before playing in Italy, and has scouted internationally. "It was a culture shock for me as a city kid going to play in Bend, Ore.," Minaya said. "I ended up playing in Tuscany, Italy, a resort town on the beach." Pausing and turning to his right, Minaya spotted Arroyo, the former Sox pitcher who grew up in Florida. "Bronson, you would have loved it there," he said.
If Minaya then added "and you will love it in Queens" he did so off the record.On to the more serious matter of Latin American player development.   Theo Epstein describes his dilemma and moment of enlightenment:
  • (from weei.com)   "If you took an equally talented 18-year-old who had graduated from an American high school and had been drafted, and Dominican Republican signee had the same tools, the same ability, the same type of makeup, and then put them in Rookie ball, and then expect them to go to advanced short-season ball the year after that, then Low A ball, and then High A ball the year after that, I think we found as an organization that we were losing the Latin American player, Epstein said. "It wouldn’t be an obvious thing. It wouldn’t be something that was patent, it was just that by the time they got to High A ball or Double A, the American player was thriving. In the Latin American player, we would start to see things in the scouting report, like, ‘Well, we’re just not sure how committed to the game he is,’ or, ‘We’re not sure what kind of baseball instincts this player has,’ or, ‘We don’t think this player takes coaching very well.’   "When you start to see that pattern over and over and over again, you realize it’s complete inequity," Epstein added. "It’s not fair, there’s something inherent in the process that we’re not doing to reach the Latin American player. We’re not providing him the same opportunity that we’re providing the American player. And so the problem is not with the makeup of the Latin American player; it’s the opposite. It’s that we’re not doing what we can to provide a level playing field. I think our challenge as an organization has been to level the playing field."
Arroyo adds this important thought, describing his rookie ball experience:
  • "All the Latin guys stuck together and they really didn’t trust anyone else," Arroyo said. "The white guys didn’t trust the Latin guys, the Latin guys didn’t trust the white guys, and that was the mentality."
While it's undeniable that baseball teams have established training academies in the Dominican for the purpose of finding and signing talented baseball players from the region, it is also true that part of the reason behind such academies is cultural assimilation.   When Epstein spoke about leveling the playing field, one way in which he and other teams do that is by taking players born and raised in the United States and removing them from their element, sending them to the Dominican where a different language is spoken, a different culture exists, and guiding an assimilation process of those players born in the US with the Latin born players that hopefully results in fewer of the cliques Arroyo describes.So the next time we get into a discussion about clubhouse dynamics, and perhaps worry about such things as the clubhouse influence of veteran Latin players, or the suggestion by veteran white players that 'those guys speak English too', we can at least take heart that major league clubs, including the Mets, are aware of culture in the clubhouse, and are taking steps to establish one culture, that of team.To wrap up, two humorous moments from the forum involving Omar Minaya:
  • Minaya recounted taking his Latin American players to an American supermarket while coaching in the GCL. Minaya said that the players hadn’t seen anything like the clean grocery stores, so he let them learn things on their own. The next morning he found the team laughing uncontrollably because a player, in an attempt to make a tuna fish sandwich, had bought and eaten cat food tuna. "That player," Minaya said with a smile, "happened to be Sammy Sosa."
  • The panel and those in attendance had an uncomfortable laugh when Minaya, while discussing recent big-name free agents being from outside the US, stopped for a few seconds. After making a half-frightened face, the Mets GM took a breath and said "I’m going to bring up Jason Bay." Epstein and (Red Sox assisstant GM Ben) Cherington were among those laughing as Minaya apologized for the turn the conversation had taken.
A big TRDMB thank you to the weei.com Full Count blog which provided the majority of information used in this piece.