Las Terranas has 40,000 people. The field is right in town—the kids walk there or get dropped off on the back of their parents’ motorbikes. Yordano Ventura is from here—this is a real rural area, but it produced a major-league baseball player. There must be something to it. The academy is run by Silvano Santos Castillo, and he does it for the love of the game and to keep 460 kids out of trouble. There’s no corporate sponsorship, no government support—it’s all private donations. A lot of the kids don’t go to school. They just go to this academy every day. They’re aged six to 15, all boys. They just practise, and they practise, and they practise.
The dirt infield is just the natural soil, and there are chickens in the outfield. Out in right, there are halfconstructed buildings—I think there’s a bar there—and laundry hanging out the back of someone’s house. You can hear buses and dirt bikes go by, but there’s no one walking through. It’s a safe place. And it’s quiet. There aren’t [coaches blowing] whistles and all that. It’s very calm.
You’ll see this brotherhood, where eight-year-olds are practising with 16-year-olds. They don’t have batting cages, they don’t have workout machines or anything close to that. The pitchers get into their windup and delivery whipping a branch—just a foot-tall weed they pick out of the outfield. They use that to help continue the momentum. There’s a half-submerged tire in the ground, and they take a bat that’s wrapped in cloth and electrical tape to weigh it down, and they just beat on the tire—they’re strength training. In the outfield, under the blistering sun, they had one guy holding up a twig, and another guy swinging a bat and clipping the top of that branch over and over, practising precision.
For the kids, it’s a way out. There are scouts there, and then of course there’s Ventura. He was there since he was four years old, so he’s a direct product. He’d show up in a big SUV and he’d work out and take some pitches and the kids would sit and watch, and then he was on his way. They practise all day and they love it—it’s learning in a freer environment. I’ve never seen anything like it. —As told to Shannon Proudfoot