MANAGUA, Nicaragua — American ex-pat to me, while on the field, before a Managua Boer baseball game: “How do you make a small fortune in Nicaragua?” His answer, “Bring a large fortune.”
The International Baseball Association’s (IBA) campaign to establish a baseball training program and construct an academy in Nicaragua has been akin to a Major League baseball season. It’s a grind, and the eventual winners endure and overcome emotional highs and lows, successes and slumps.
After six years, IBA was coming to bat in Game 162, bottom of the ninth, a must-win contest with the roster and options changed. One of our most critical players, Roger Keeling, had suffered the equivalent of a career-ending injury and, as a result, the game plan was in serious jeopardy and in need of revision.
(To recap previous stories, IBA’s mission is to set up a training program and build an academy in Nicaragua. After numerous trips to the country, we were introduced to an American living in Nicaragua through the U.S. Embassy. Keeling is a former collegiate baseball player who was supervising the largest private real estate development—the Gran Pacifica Beach Resort—in the country. We formed a partnership with Keeling, with a strategy of promoting baseball tourism, utilizing the facilities Gran Pacifica and purchasing land to the resort, where the academy would be built. Over the next few years, IBA conducted clinics, donated baseball equipment to youth leagues and established a network of baseball contacts throughout the country. Keeling coordinated IBA operations in Nicaragua, while I did the same in the U.S. Now, almost without warning, he was no longer involved in the project).
It was a huge loss, a potential game-ender. If there was a reason for hope, IBA had, over the past year, had aggressively expanded its pool of talent through the recruitment of new board members. This proved essential in compensating for the loss of such an integral player and strengthened the foundation of the organization.
It would take our combined efforts to pull out an improbable comeback.
In late March, I few to Managua with new board members Phil Davis and Joe Gerbasi, where we met with Manuel Tefel, who had recently returned to his native country from a study program in Taiwan. Tefel became our first pinch-hitter, replacing Keeling as the IBA coordinator in Nicaragua. Runner on first.
Through six years, we had pursued many paths, learned painful lessons, both in the U.S. and Nicaragua, and had reached the point where the outcome was in serious doubt. We were one out away from ultimate defeat.
Who or what was the player who could potentially change the outcome? The Managua Boer of the Nicaraguan Professional Baseball League. The Boer team has the brand equivalent in Nicaragua of the New York Yankees in the U.S.
Keny Alegria, the winner of the IBA-sponsored Home Run Derby in Nicaragua, was now the team’s starting second baseman and delivered the game-winning hit in the 2014 championship series.
IBA had learned of Boer’s interest in establishing a training program for youth, with the eventual goal of constructing an academy. This aligned with our objectives and we began discussions about a possible collaboration. After weeks of exchanging ideas and proposals, we embarked on the trip to Managua to either finalize an agreement or have our season (and project) come to an end.
There were no guarantees and difficult negotiations remained. This would be the first partnership of its kind and there were inherent risks. An American company doing business in Nicaragua is at a disadvantage in the event of a dispute with a native company or individual. It was critical for IBA to maintain leverage and a degree of independence.
After a day of discussions, the basis for an agreement was reached, which placed responsibilities on both parties. On March 23, a signing ceremony was held between IBA and Boer, with Boer owner Bayardo Arce and I representing our respective organizations, followed by a press conference.
Partnering with Boer potentially opens new sponsorship doors in Nicaragua, provides us with access to their coaches, scouts and facilities, raises our credibility within the country (not being viewed as an entirely foreign venture) and furnishes IBA with the collateral of a concrete agreement with which to solicit sponsors in the U.S.
Now pinch-hitting for IBA . . .
Part Three: Doing business in Nicaragua? Think like a Nica
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