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Tampa Bay Rays Expand Their Scouting Efforts to South America

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   Tampa Bay Rays Expand Their Scouting Efforts to South America
 
   Published on: July 1, 2009
 
Tampa Bay Rays are becoming the first MLB team to build a baseball academy in Brazil as it focuses on the potential untapped talent in South America.

Gerry Hunsicker, senior vice-president of baseball operations, said: "This is a historic day for the Rays and Major League Baseball. We are excited to be pioneers in this groundbreaking effort."

The Rays have signed an agreement with the city of Marilia, Brazil, to develop the country’s first baseball academy. The announcement was made jointly by Marilia Mayor Mario Bulgarelli and MLB vice-president of international operations Lou Melendez.

The academy will be built jointly by the local and federal governments and operated by the Rays. Also present at the signing were Edno de Souza, liaison between the Rays and the Brazilian government, and Adriano de Souza, Rays scout and Brazilian Academy Coordinator.

The venture is viewed as a historic opportunity for MLB since Brazil is known as a soccer-focused country and hosts the 2014 FIFA World Cup. No Brazilian baseball player has yet made it to the major leagues but that has not dissuaded Hunsicker and special assistant for baseball operations Andres Reiner from honing in on the natural talent. One pitcher, Jose Pett, signed with the Toronto organization playing at Triple-A in 1992.

Marilia’s location, 230 miles northwest of Sao Paulo, and population of 250,000 were the main attractions for the Rays choice of academy site. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world with a population of over 200 million.

Added bonus is that the Rays will also introduce baseball to the public school system between the ages of 7 and 14 in the Marilia area.

Reiner said: “There is absolutely no reason for a country with this amount of young athletes why they wouldn't be good players. I'm convinced there is tremendous potential there. We need to teach the youngsters to play the game, because they don't know."

Bulgarelli added: "We hope we are a tree that can have a lot of fruit in the future.”

The Rays signed their first Brazilian player, Leonardo Reginatto, last February and the plan is that, with MLB’s development program, by five or 10 years’ time the country will be producing seriously competitive players. Reginatto is currently playing with the Rays’ Venezuelan Summer league team.

Reiner and Hunsicker both have a background in development and grassroots training. Reiner was 17 years with the Houston Astros and, in 1997, founded the first academy in Venezuela which has produced more than 100 pro players. He is in his third year with the Rays and believes Brazil the new source.

He said: "I think we have a tremendous market there. It's just a question of time and opportunity."

The 22-acre academy is expected to cost US$1-1.5m and will entail four playing fields, two youth and two professional size, and also include batting cages, dormitories, training and locker rooms and administration buildings. Construction is set to start in September and estimated opening is April 4, 2010.

The Rays also have academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela as well as scouting operations in Colombia. They are also extending their scouting operations in Europe, Australia and the Pacific Rim.
 
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