Educating A Culture
His playing days ended before he turned 20, but Yardley's Harold Mendez didn't need to pursue a professional baseball career to figure out his favorite sport is in fact a business.
Mendez, who's of Colombian descent and grew up playing baseball in New York, Florida and California, had plenty of friends he could use as case studies.
"As they were kind of moving through the system, I could see at every point of the way that something was just not equal," said Mendez, 33, a graduate of Temple University Law School. "Obviously, teams have their accountants, their lawyers, their financial managers, whereas most of these young guys that I grew up with didn't have that. They just looked at baseball as something they loved to do.
"I realized I wanted to be involved somehow in sports and with the Latino community, especially the educational component."
Mendez became an agent who represents Latino athletes and entertainers exclusively. He also dreamed up the Dominican Republic Sports and Education Academy as a way to help young athletes in Latin America prepare for life in the major leagues and, more importantly, beyond.
"We want to prepare these kids for the realities of what's going to happen, whether they turn pro or not," Mendez said. "Their [pro baseball] careers are going to last maybe six years at the most. What are they going to do with the rest of their lives?"
The academy is still in its planning stages - the target opening date for the $10 million building is September 2009 - but Mendez and co-founder Charles Farrell already have identified a tract of land near La Romana, D.R., on which to build their compound. They've also begun to conceptualize the curriculum, which would emphasize the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed outside of sports.
Dominican students only are required to attend school up to the fifth grade, Mendez said. He wants the DRSEA to promote higher education via athletic scholarships.
"Right now, everyone coming out of [D.R.] is looking at baseball as the way they're going to become the next Sammy Sosa," Mendez said. "Nobody is looking at it as a way of saying, "You know what? If I can throw a little ball 90 miles an hour or hit it 500 feet, I can actually get myself a college education in the U.S.' "
Mendez understands that changing an entire culture's way of thinking - and raising the millions of dollars necessary to build and operate the academy - won't happen overnight. But he's committed to making his dream a reality.
"Whether it happens in 2009 or 2020, it's going to happen," he said. "If it takes me the rest of my life, so be it. It's definitely needed; it's just a matter of putting the components together. It's going to happen. There's no doubt in my mind."
Jennifer Wielgus can be reached at 215-949-4213 or jwielgus@phillyBurbs.com.Editor's note: Discover Bucks is a weekly feature spotlighting a group in your community. If you know such a group, call us at 215-949-4180 or drop us an e-mail at news@phillyBurbs.com.
The Dominican Republic Sports and Education Academy is located in La Romana, D.R. (outside of San Pedro de Macoris) and has a targeted opening of September 2009 at an estimated cost of $10 million. It will feature classrooms, a computer lab, library, theater/auditorium, cafeteria, dormitory, baseball field, practice field, batting cages and soccer fields. Harold Mendez, a Yardley resident and Temple graduate, is a co-founder of the academy.
"Our mission is to help train Dominican student athletes."