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Bucs unveil new complex plans

Pirates unveil new complex

PITTSBURGH -- In what team president Frank Coonelly called a watershed day for the organization, the Pirates revealed their specific plans for the team's new Latin American headquarters and training complex in Dominican Republic at a Monday morning press conference, highlighted by a slideshow that contrasted the organization's current facilities with computer-generated models of the new facility.

On Tuesday, the Pirates will be breaking ground on a 46-acre training facility in El Toro, Dominican Republic. Owner Bob Nutting, Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington and various Pirates players, including Ronny Paulino and Jose Bautista, who are natives of the Dominican Republic, will be on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony.

It is a ceremony that not only will mark the beginning of construction on the complex, but one that, in a greater sense, will symbolize the Pirates' firm dedication to becoming one of the premier leaders in attracting and developing talent in such fertile baseball land.

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"The Pittsburgh Pirates were pioneers in Latin America," Coonelly said. "We've fallen down from that status in recent years. This is a commitment from ownership to become great again in Latin America."

The facility, which is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2009, will replace the inadequate and spread-out rented facility that the organization currently uses as its developmental headquarters in the Latin American country. When completed, the Pirates will be one of just seven Major League teams to own its own facilities in the Dominican Republic.

Their current facility -- which consists of one playing field, a single dilapidated batting cage and no centralized dormitories or facilities -- will be replaced by an all-inclusive campus-style complex. Highlights of the new facility will include:

• On-site housing for up to 90 players and coaches, including 18 rooms to house players on the Pirates' Dominican Summer League team. Also located in this main building will be a dining hall, player lounges with stations to watch film, and educational classrooms, where players will take both Spanish reading and writing courses as well as English speaking courses.

• Two and a half baseball fields -- one of which will be used for the summer league games -- as well as a bunting station. The dugouts, bleachers and observation stations will all be covered as a means of countering the frequent rain storms in the country. There will also be four covered batting cages and six bullpen mounds.

• A clubhouse and baseball training building next to the dormitories. Located inside this building will be a weight room, training room and coaches locker room, among other things.

Though the official groundbreaking ceremony for this facility will be on Tuesday, the official groundwork began just about a year ago, when Nutting assumed control of the organization. In an effort to identify deficiencies and areas of need, he spent the year personally examining all facets of the organization, including the club's Latin American resources.

Nutting's trip to the Dominican Republic last May revealed a competent and well-qualified staff, but one that had an inadequacy of resources.

"I came away with the strong impression that they did not have the tools they needed to get the job done and get the inflow of talent that we so desperately need in Pittsburgh," Nutting said. "It was clear to me that it didn't look like a Major League facility. It certainly was not a competitive facility."

While in the Dominican Republic, Nutting spent time touring not only the Pirates' current facility, but also looking around at the facilities of other teams in order to identify what needed to be incorporated into this new plan. That initial assessment, coupled with input from scouts, Latin American personnel and Huntington, who had been overseeing Cleveland's new Spring Training facility in Goodyear, Ariz., helped the Pirates finalize the plans for this new complex.

"This is one more step in creating an organization that is designed to consistently compete on the field," Nutting said. "I really believe this is a tangible example of the commitment the entire organization has to identify our needs and move forward and deliver those tools that are needed to get the job done."

The Pirates have already increased their number of scouts in Latin America this year to 20 in nine countries, primarily Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. When this new facility opens next summer, Huntington said that he and scouting director Greg Smith will reevaluate the organization's presence there to decide if another staffing and scouting increase would be in order.

The presence of a facility that Huntington described as having "everything that we could possibly need or want" will be a critical factor in the organization's ability to recruit young talent in the Dominican Republic, a country from which more than 40 percent of all foreign-born Major League players come.

However, there is no such thing as a baseball Draft in other countries, which means that acquiring talent abroad requires signing players as free agents. That means that with nearly every other big league team having a presence in the country, a Major League organization needs something to make itself stand out. The Pirates are confident that something will be this new facility.

"This facility will provide us with a significant competitive advantage in doing that in Latin America," Huntington said. "They will come to this facility. They will see this facility. They will not want to leave this facility."

In addition, the Pirates are upping their competitiveness in the market by increasing their signing-bonus budget for inking young talent. The new centralized facility will also be instrumental in recruiting and retaining the best baseball scouts and staff in the country.

While Monday's unveiling of this new complex focused specifically on the plans in the Dominican Republic, Pirates management expects this step to be just the first in expanding their presence worldwide.

Huntington said that the organization is seriously considering instituting a full-time presence in the Pacific Rim next season, as well as targeting fairly uncharted areas such Europe and Australia. And while many other teams are pulling resources out of Venezuela due to the country's political instability, the Pirates are not only maintaining their presence there, but becoming one of the largest players in that market.

For now, however, the Pirates are focusing heavily on the talent pool in the Dominican Republic as a means to garnering young and less expensive talent that can, in turn, help the club be competitive in a middle-sized market.

"I view this as a watershed day in Pittsburgh for the Pittsburgh Pirates," Coonelly said. "This is an implementation of Bob [Nutting's] plan to build from within, to build a strong foundation that brings premier talent into the Major League club, and allow us to compete consistently in the National League."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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