The Next Gen of Major Leaguers Gather in Virginia
Baseball's worldwide appeal was on full display from January 4-7 when the Major League Baseball Players Association and Major League Baseball hosted their annual Rookie Career Development Program (RCDP) at the Landsdowne Conference Center in Leesburg, Va.
The popularity of the game continues to grow in large part because of a number of initiatives jointly administered by the MLBPA and MLB, including ever-increasing interest in the World Baseball Classic. Because of the sport's commitment to share the game with kids around the world, future generations of Major Leaguers are being cultivated on fields in every corner of the globe.
With each Major League team inviting up to four of its top young players to attend the 2018 version of the RCDP, the next generation of Major Leaguers on site hailed from 11 different countries, including Brazil, Canada, Honduras, Panama, Taiwan, Venezuela, as well as baseball hotbeds Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and, of course, the United States. It's clear that baseball remains our nation's favorite pastime as nearly half of all states were represented at this year's RCDP!
During the four-day program, baseball's stars of tomorrow were treated to a number of seminars designed exclusively for emerging, young professional athletes. Topics covered areas such as Working with the Media, Protecting Your Career, Financial Responsibility, Healthy Relationships and Respect and Inclusion in the Workplace. The young Players were also treated to a session hosted by MLBPA Executive Director and 14-year MLB veteran, Tony Clark – the first former Player to head the Players' union.
During Clark's session, the Players learned about the union's history and how the union works to support, protect and advance the careers of all Players. The Players were treated to a brief video that in some ways helps introduce them to the exclusive fraternity they're about to join. As Clark shared, in the 120-plus year history of Major League Baseball, only slightly more than 19,000 men have had the chance to wear a big league uniform for even one day!
The next generation of Players was also fortunate to hear from a number of former Players spanning several generations, including Hall of Famer Dave Winfield and current big leaguer Eric Young, Jr.. Other former Players serving as “resource players” included Jose Cruz, Jr., Jeffrey Hammonds, Rick Helling, Vance Law, Jim Poole, Jeff Reboulet, Steve Rogers, Kevin Slowey, Bob Tewksbury, Dave Valle and Jose Veras.
The improv comedy group, Second City, was on hand once again to provide some important role-playing opportunities for the Players, which, in many cases, helped bring to life some of the lessons being shared by the assembled experts.
One of the attendees, Mauricio Dubón, has an opportunity to become just the second Major Leaguer from Honduras (According to BaseballAlmanac.com, Gerald Young was the first). Dubón, 23 and currently an infielder with the Milwaukee Brewers organization, has followed a very unique path on his quest to become a Major Leaguer. In 2010, when just 15 years old and living in Honduras, Dubón was “discovered” by the Capital Christian High School baseball program during a missionary trip to the Central American country. The Sacramento, Calif. high school personnel on the trip recognized Dubón's passion and skills and invited him back to the states for an opportunity to further his education. Something the young boy found “nerve racking” because up to that point in his young life his mother had never allowed him to sleep away from home. It was a brave move that has changed his life forever.
“Baseball's not that popular in Honduras, but ever since I can remember I wanted to play Major League Baseball,” Dubón told MLBPlayers.com. “Growing up we had cable TV and TBS, so I grew up watching Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Marcus Giles, Rafael Furcal…it was good. Obviously, in Latin America everyone loves the Yankees. Actually, I based my game on how Derek Jeter played and how he handled himself. I tried to emulate everything he did.”
Dubón was grateful for the opportunity to attend the RCDP. “I always thought I was doing things right, but coming here has taught me different stuff that has benefitted me. I loved learning how to talk to the media. I loved financial planning, because after 40 life goes on. There's life after baseball and I have to learn about saving money, having businesses or saving and investing my money. I'm really trying to take advantage of what they're trying to teach us here.”
Joining Dubón in the RCDP Class of 2018 was Atlanta Braves pitching prospect, Michael Soroka, a native of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Soroka, like Dubón, has taken a different path on his road to the Majors. His young athletic career began on a sheet of ice and between the pipes, as opposed to a mound between the lines. Soroka told MLBPlayers.com that it was his time spent as an ice hockey goalie that inspired him to move away from ‘Canada's Game' to chase a growing passion for baseball.
“I fell in love with hockey when I was young and was inspired to be a goalie when I was about 4 or 5. But when I got to be 12, I realized I didn't like to be a goalie, and I loved baseball and everything about it.”
Soroka, 20, and a first-round draft pick (28th) by the Braves in 2015, was enjoying his time at the RCDP. “It's been amazing to be around all my peers, some guys I've played with in the past couple of years in professional baseball, this is pretty cool. Obviously, we're getting to learn a lot about things I haven't come across yet. It was great to learn more about the union and what it does for Players, too. There are a lot of things the union does that I didn't realize, and we have them to be thankful for.
“I also had an opportunity to have lunch with Dave Winfield and you can tell he really cares. His words come from experience and everyone stops what they're doing to listen to him. I learned from him that you have to stop and think. You may think you have it figured out, but you don't.”
And that's what the RCDP is all about: Helping the next generation of Major Leaguers make the biggest leap in their careers a safe and productive one.