Coonelly visits facility in Dominican

Coonelly visits facility in Dominican

PITTSBURGH -- For the past year, the Pirates organization has been growing its investment in Latin America. More focus has been paid to scouting young talent there. More money has been devoted for signing bonuses.

But that investment in Latin America is no more evident than with the construction of the Pirates' baseball training complex, an academy that is in the process of being built in the El Toro municipality of the Dominican Republic.

Last week, Pirates president Frank Coonelly traveled to the Latin American country for his first trip there since attending a groundbreaking ceremony one year ago. The purpose of his trip was three-fold: to check in on the progress of construction, to tour other Major League facilities in the area for further suggestions and to find ways that the Pirates can stay involved in the El Toro community.

After returning to Pittsburgh, Coonelly reported that the construction of the complex is on schedule and on budget. Coonelly said that the complex will be finished before the Dominican Summer League season begins in late May. Part of the purpose of the academy is to serve as the training and housing facility for the organization's Dominican Summer League team.

"Everything looks terrific," Coonelly said. "Everything is under roof. It's one thing to see pictures and to see drawings, but to see that everything's been built and enclosed can allow us to make the decisions on the last-minute finishing touches on the project."

The dorm rooms, offices, clubhouse and training areas have been built. The first of the two full fields is nearly finished. The sod for the second field is being laid. A third half-field is also being worked on.

Unlike putting down a field here in the U.S., where sod can just be rolled out, laying a field in the Dominican Republic has been a much more grueling undertaking. Tiles of sod have to be bought and laid -- much like laying a floor -- in order to finish the field.

In addition to assessing the progress, Coonelly made visits to the Dominican Republic facilities that belong to the Padres and Mets. Both facilities are located near the Pirates' complex and have been completed in the last year. In talking with officials from both of these teams, Coonelly received some recommendations.

One of the clubs recommended putting up a wall for medicine ball throwing, something that wasn't initially in the Pirates' plans. The Pirates now will.

The suggestion also was made to put Astroturf in the batting tunnels because of the difficulty in the upkeep of dirt. Coonelly said the club is likely going to do that now as well.

The club also got advice about subcontracting out things like food services, which is something that the Pirates have not yet determined. According to Coonelly, the organization is currently leaning toward hiring its own people.

Coonelly's trip to the Dominican Republic also took him to a nearby school that houses students from elementary school through high school.

Much like the Pirates' efforts in Pittsburgh and Bradenton, Fla., where the team holds Spring Training, the organization has made it a priority to become a part of the community. That's no different in Latin America.

After touring the school and speaking with administrators, Coonelly identified some immediate needs of the students. Their school bus is unusable and has been up on blocks for years. The Pirates are now in the process of purchasing a bus for the school.

When funds ran dry, the school had to leave one of its classrooms with just two-and-a-half walls. It has never been finished. The Pirates are now looking into ways to help finish closing in that classroom.

"We are going to partner with them to try and help the kids," Coonelly said. "Just like here in Pittsburgh, we want to make sure that we give back to the community that we are working in."

The Pirates will hold an official opening ceremony at the academy in late April or early May. No date has been announced.

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