This is the fifth of five posts about the benefits and challenges of building a baseball academy in Nicaragua. While it focuses on a specific project, the series also provides insight for Americans looking to pursue sports ventures in Latin America.
In March 2014, after four years of work, the International Baseball Assn. faced a critical juncture. Much had been accomplished, but the organization’s primary goal of raising $500,000 to build a baseball academy and school appeared out of reach.
It was time to reassess our goals and strategies. Since I was the only remaining original IBA board member, it was necessary to recruit new members who would be critical to the vitality of the organization and help shape our future. In order to recruit new leadership, we promoted IBA through social media and our personal contacts. We also formed an Advisory Committee of former players for the non-profit IBACA, who provided additional credibility within the baseball community and could help strengthen the organization’s leadership.
Joining me in this pivotal meeting were fellow board member Roger Keeling; Javier Morales, a Nicaraguan businessman and former government minister; long-time advisor Jorge Luis Ayestas, trustee of American College, in Managua; and unpaid advisor Ronaldo Peralta, director of the Cubs’ academy in the Dominican Republic and a native Nicaraguan.
The group created a new plan, with short-, mid- and long-term goals:
Short-Term (up to 12 months)
Use existing resources in Nicaragua to begin training a select group of young players. This would include renting a house to accommodate players and coaches, using a baseball field and hiring coaches and a trainer. Tryouts would be held in various locations to select 10 players to enter the program.
Another option was recently presented. The principals in a baseball training facility in Mexico proposed having Nicaraguan players train at their center. Players from the two countries would also participate in exchange competitions. This is being considered and would augment the training program in Nicaragua.
Recruit new members to the IBA and IBACA boards that would bring needed skills and resources. In addition to Morales, three new members have been added:
Michael Barmasse, an attorney and long-time youth coach from Westlake Village, Ca; Steve Peeler, former MLB field director and designer; builder of baseball fields, from Morganton, N.C.; and Phil Davis, a business executive with domestic and international experience in the credit card industry, primarily with Citigroup and Bank of America. He resides in Flower Mound, Tex., and recently spent four months in Nicaragua.
Aggressively pursue sponsorships from companies and individuals in the amount of $6,000 per year to sponsor a Nicaraguan player through tax-deductible donations. Major league team foundations and other baseball charitable groups will be targeted, along with a select group of players.
Solicit in-kind donations of baseball equipment to defray the start-up cost of the training program. The California Lutheran University and Thousand Oaks High School baseball programs have led the way in contributing baseballs, uniforms, bats, catchers’ gear and other items. A Nicaraguan supporter has donated a pitching machine, a rare treasure in the country.
Promote baseball tours for US youth teams, with profits being directed to sponsorships. A number of tours are on the calendar through summer 2015. The level of play is very high and the country has many of the attractions of Costa Rica—beaches, rain forests, lakes and rivers. Combined with competitive prices, these tours are becoming popular options for U.S. teams looking for international travel. An all-inclusive seven-day trip, excluding air fare, averages about $875 per person for a player and parent.
Mid-Term (2-3 years)
The original plan remains in place: to construct an academy, including two full baseball fields; batting cages; pitching mounds; weight, locker and trainers’ rooms; cafeteria with classrooms and a dorm to house 40-45 players and coaches. It will be built in two phases.
Long-Term (4-5 years)
Within five years, construct a lighted, 3,000-seat stadium to host tournaments and other events. IBA is also discussing a collaboration with a team in the Nicaraguan Professional League to play a series of home games at the new stadium.
Financing the more ambitious components will require securing a combination of donations/grants to IBACA, investments in the for-profit IBA and/or loans from government agencies promoting overseas investment. It has become apparent that these funds will need to come from the U.S.
A key to the success of the project will be starting the training program within the next year. The goal is to have at least one player ready to sign a pro contract by the end of 2015. It is our belief that success developing players in Nicaragua will encourage the support of individuals and organizations that are aware of the project and waiting to see tangible results.
Part Three: Doing business in Nicaragua? Think like a Nica
Part Five: Charting a new course for International Baseball Academy
Bob Oettinger has worked in the area of corporate and non-profit management, fund raising, planning, public relations and promotions for more than 25 years. He has served as public relations director for the American Diabetes Association, Southern California Affialite and co-director of Motion Picture and Television Fund’s $50 million capital campaign, before founding Celebrity Outreach in 1989. Bio