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Correa, Berrios working to inspire08/23/2012 10:00 AM ET
By Chris Gigley / Special to MLB.com
Two of Puerto Rico's highest Draft picks ever represent both the hope and reality of baseball on that island. Carlos Correa, the No. 1 overall pick this June, embraces his chance to encourage more kids back home to play ball, while the first player taken in the supplemental round, Jose Berrios, knows he earned his chance with the Minnesota Twins because of his brother's missed chance.
Correa knew the importance of being the first Puerto Rican player ever drafted No. 1 overall as soon as the Houston Astros selected him.
"People went crazy in Puerto Rico," he said. "I could see how important it was to them, and I hope young kids feel the same. I hope younger kids there will be inspired by what happened to me and will work harder than ever."
Berrios, a 6-foot, 187-pound righthander the Twins selected 32nd overall, knows firsthand what happens to most young Puerto Rican ballplayers these days. His older brother, Angel, was a talented pitcher who simply became distracted by other things once he got to high school.
"He had girlfriends, he went to parties, things like that," said Berrios. "It's not that he did anything bad, he just got away from the game."
That, says Elizabethton pitching coach and Venezuela native Ivan Arteaga, has happened a lot more since players from that island were first subjected to the Draft in 1989.
"We've been discussing this in the Latin American community for years now," said Arteaga. "Puerto Rico has been hindered by the Draft. The players aren't free agents anymore and can't be signed so young and go the academies. If they want to be seen by scouts, they have to go to high school and college and play there."
And by then, they don't think about baseball as much.
"Baseball isn't their way to the U.S. like it is for Dominican kids, because they're already there," said Arteaga. "They don't need a passport or visa to go to New York. They don't need baseball."
The Montreal Expos signed Arteaga in 1993, and he went on to pitch for six seasons in the Minor Leagues. During that time, he said many of the brightest Latino stars in the big leagues were Puerto Rican, and many of them returned home to play winter ball.
"Maybe Ivan Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez grew up idolizing Roberto Clemente and watching him play in winter ball there," said Arteaga. "This generation of players doesn't have that reference. Big leaguers don't go back anymore. There are no players for young kids to follow."
Even Correa proves this point by confessing that the player he grew up admiring most was New Jersey-born Derek Jeter. But Correa is savvy for a 17-year-old, quickly paying homage to a Puerto Rican Hall of Famer.
"I respect all the Puerto Rican Major Leaguers, too," he added. "Derek Jeter and Roberto Alomar are the two players I tried to model myself after most."
The Puerto Rico Baseball League still exists, but its brief shutdown in 2007 represented a low point for the sport there. Now the league is struggling to survive with just four teams. Puerto Rico also lacks the baseball academies every Major League team has established in the Dominican Republic. Correa found the closest thing when he decided to attend the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy and High School.
"It was an hour commute each way, but I was taught how to play the right way and respect the game," said Correa.
The academy graduated its first class in 2004, and 86 of its players have been drafted. This year, the Los Angeles Dodgers selected graduate Jesmuel Valentin with the 51st overall pick.
Berrios, meanwhile, realized at age 14 that his fastball could take him farther in baseball than his brother got.
"I threw 89 mph at a tryout and decided I'd work hard to improve and not make the same mistake my brother made," said Berrios. "I was going to put all my effort into becoming a professional baseball player."
Both Correa's and Berrios' dedication to the game from an early age has obviously paid off. Both players started in the Gulf Coast League this year and earned a promotion to the Appalachian League in early August.
They seem to understand their success in the game is about more than them. It's about Puerto Rican baseball making a comeback on the global stage.
"I makes me proud to be a role model for the kids back home," said Correa. "Right now I hope every kid sees what I was able to do and works hard in school and on the field so they can get drafted, too."
If they want to play professional baseball, that's the only route they can take.