To Carlos Beltrán baseball has always been more than a game, more than a profession.
In his first full season as a major leaguer for the Kansas City Royals in 1999, Beltrán decided to start a foundation focused on raising money for organizations promoting education and sports among low-income children, the Carlos Beltrán Foundation.
After Beltrán -- now an 18-year MLB veteran -- signed with the New York Mets in 2005, he began donating 10 percent of his salary to his foundation. But he and his wife, Jessica, decided they needed to do more.
It was then, he said, that they started to dream of creating a school where academic excellence and sports would go hand in hand, offering young Puerto Ricans the opportunities that Beltrán himself didn’t have during his own childhood.
“While having a conversation, my wife and I decided we wanted to do something related to education, and we decided to create a school that combined education and baseball,” Beltrán said in an interview with ESPNDeportes.com.
“Many people see getting professionally signed as the only opportunity in baseball, but it also provides other opportunities such as coming to the United States, earning scholarships and continuing your education. You continue to do what you love, but you have the opportunity to educate yourself and prepare yourself in case baseball doesn’t work out.”
It was an arduous process full of red tape, but with the help of the Municipality of La Florida and a large group of volunteers, the Carlos Beltrán Baseball Academy opened on Aug. 18, 2011.
“We presented the project to many municipalities in Puerto Rico, and the one that was really interested, the one that saw it not just as my project but rather a project belonging to all of Puerto Rico, was La Florida, which donated us some land,” said Beltrán, referring to the town next to his hometown of Manatí.
“It took a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice and a lot of volunteers. The project bears my name, but the impact we’re making is big, and it’s for all of Puerto Rico. We want to help kids make better decisions and open doors for them to a better future.”
According to the school’s website, the majority of the 40 or so graduates each year from 2013, 2014 and 2015 headed to the U.S. to play baseball and continue their education.
With just 13 active Puerto Rican ballplayers on Opening Day 2015, there’s no doubt the Puerto Rican native believes the work he’s doing at his academy, in addition to similar programs aimed at developing talent on the Caribbean island, will have a positive impact in the MLB.
Yet at the same time, it’s important for Beltrán to moderate his expectations. The school is a specialized education center first, where the passion for sports is used as motivation.
“Our focus isn’t to turn kids into major league baseball players. Those who get signed, will get signed,” he said. “Once they leave our school, it’s up to them to maximize their potential.”
“Some people have a passion for the arts, others have a passion for sports, so the way I see it is there should be schools for all types of people, and if you do what you’re passionate about, you’re going to be motivated,” he said.
The Carlos Beltrán Baseball Academy and Foundation rely not only on Beltrán’s personal contributions but also on donations and fund-raising.
“The biggest challenge is to get the school running, to see that the kids are developing and they’re achieving their goals,” said Beltrán. “We’ve got a tremendous group of dedicated teachers, instructors and people at the school.”
The 38-year-old outfielder, who’s coming off a lackluster season with the New York Yankees after he signed a three-year, $45 million contract in December 2013, understands that his legacy off the field is more important that what he may achieve on it.
In time, the memory of the eight-time All-Star may fade a bit, but an important group of Puerto Rican kids and their families will never forget the impact of the Beltrán.
“I’m happy because I’m making the most of my career as a ballplayer, and I’m leaving a legacy for the kids who have the same dreams as I did when I was young,” said Beltran.
Marly Rivera covers the New York Yankees and the New York Mets for ESPNDeportes.com.