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Holiday new experience at Bucs' academy

Holiday new experience at Bucs' academy

PITTSBURGH -- Down in El Toro, Dominican Republic, a town located on the outskirts of the capital city of Santo Domingo, about 80 people will pass through the cafeteria at the Pirates' Latin American headquarters on Thursday. And there, they'll find Thanksgiving dinner.

It will be a fairly traditional Thanksgiving meal as we would know it in the U.S. But for a group of young men that have been raised in various Latin American countries, it will serve as a unique cultural experience.

"Some of them had heard of Thanksgiving because Dominican society is influenced by America," said Caleb Santos-Silva, a U.S. citizen working for the Pirates in their Dominican academy. "We wanted to do something for Thanksgiving to let everyone know what we do in the states."

Santos-Silva has already worked with the academy's chef to create an authentic menu with whatever Thanksgiving foods were available in the Dominican Republic. There will be roasted turkey, stuffing and corn. There will be mashed potatoes and brown gravy. There will be sweet potatoes, though the dish will be fried in keeping with the culinary norm in the country.

However, the Thanksgiving celebration will involve more than Thursday's meal, and it is part of a larger assimilation preparation process. When the Pirates opened their Latin American academy last April, the organization emphasized not only the structural changes made, but the institutional changes as well. Setting aside space for classrooms was an integral part of the academy's design.

For the past six months, those classrooms have been used to teach English to all the players at the academy. More recently, the teenagers have also been able to begin a high school GED program. As part of all this emphasis in education, the Pirates have also incorporated a variety of cultural lessons.

And that's where this Thanksgiving feast comes in.

"During our cultural lessons, we explain to them what they'll need to know when they get to the states," Santos-Silva said. "This will be one of those lessons."

Leading up to Thursday's dinner, Lynette Nadal, whom the Pirates hired to establish the educational and English programs for the organization, explained the meaning and significance of Thanksgiving.

"They learn about culture, customs and etiquette in our classes," Nadal said. "We've talked for a while about incorporating holidays into our lessons -- what holidays we celebrate in the U.S., how we celebrate those holidays. For most of these players, they didn't know what Thanksgiving was."

About 30 of the 80 people enjoying the Thanksgiving meal will be the academy's staff members, most of whom are local Dominicans. In an effort to make sure they understand the purpose of the holiday, too, Santos-Silva has developed a short lesson for them, too.

Thanksgiving will mark the first American holiday that the Latin players have celebrated in El Toro, but it's not likely to be the last. In fact, Santos-Silva had hoped to introduce the Dominican Summer League players to Independence Day last July 4. Those plans were stalled, though, when he couldn't find any fireworks for purchase in the country.

"I think we've got a creative staff both on the baseball side and also on the operations side that tries to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to help players adjust," Pirates director of player development Kyle Stark said. "These guys are playing and are all going to be there, and that's their family. To be able to celebrate something like this with their family will be special."

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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