In this concluding half of the interview ,brought to us by his agent, Christie Gibson (from www.luispoloniapba.com), Luis lays it all out there concerning the inefficiencies of the Angels Latin American scouting efforts, the challenges he faces among Dominican youth with PEDs and age cheating, the unfortunate loss of talented players due to unimaginative age discrimination by Major League Baseball, the growth of his Academy, and the exclusive news concerning his future prospects - including his own son.
**UPDATE**: In response to this interview, Luis Polonia has reached out to us here at HH and offered up his Facebook page and twitter account. Those can be found at http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1103199717&ref=ts and http:/twitter.com/polonia respectively!
HH: Now recently here, the Angels, they fired their Latin American Director of Scouting. That would seem to put the Angels at a disadvantage in reaching out to Dominican prospects. So can you tell us how your Academy works to stay in contact with MLB teams?
LP: Well, I have every [MLB] contact and, normally what I do, I get the kids at a young age (13, 14, 15) and when they are ready to go I just make the call and they will be right there checking my kids.
I haven’t been really successful with the Angels. Which, as a matter of fact, I sent them a letter via email last week. Because it makes me sad that I had all these players and the only organization that I cannot get to go to my Academy and check my players is the Angels, because I don’t think they have the right people here in The Dominican. Those people they just want to sit in their chairs, and wait for us to take the players there. It’s like they don’t want to get out of there to see the players.
It’s sad. Knowing that (the Angels) this is my new job so I always be after baseball players and they won’t have the conversation that I show off the players. That they have these people here that they treat me that bad, you know. And I hope, I hope, that the email gets to them so they know what they have working here is no good. It’s just people that they sit in their Academy waiting for the guys to take a player there. And normally that’s not how you work. If I got the player for you, you got to come see him because that’s what you are here for. And I haven’t had the chance. I have had 34 players signed and I have only 1 player signed by the Angels. And [name unintelligible] has never been to my Academy, they don’t know what my Academy looks like.
HH: And that’s kind of obvious when you look at the Angels roster through all their organization in the Minor Leagues, right? Like we talked earlier, we got notable players on their roster now, like Arredondo, and Aybar, Guerrero, Santana but your go into the minor leagues and there’s, like, nobody there. Right?
LP: That’s because they don’t take care of business.
HH: Something’s changed here. They had a good program for getting players in the past and they don’t now, and you’re saying that it’s because they don’t have a good organization in the Dominican and not being active in reaching out to you guys to see players.
LP: They’re not doing the job. They are just waiting, they are just getting paid.
LP: And it’s sad. They are just getting paid.
HH: Like I said, just a few weeks ago we just fired our Director there, of Latin American scouting so I’ll hope that changes will be coming soon.
LP: Tell them I’m available!
HH: Alright! I will do that!
LP: I would LOVE to work as a scout…the main guy for Latin America from the Angels. That will be my highlight right there. Just tell them I’m available.
HH: I will put that in the article. You betcha.
LP: Oh, yeah. Tell them I’m available.
HH: So you got a lot of Academies, competing programs down there in the Dominican, do you find it challenging to promote your Academy to your players and to the MLB when you have so many other Academies?
LP: Well, we have what is called…there is one here that is called "Born To Play". Right now that’s the number 1 and that’s what we want to compete with, because there are so many, there’s so many, Academies working kids right now. I mean, it’s becoming the number 1 priority in The Dominican Republic. You know, it’s been now so many young guys signing with the millions of dollars contract. So for a signing bonus, that is unbelievable how high you think that has gotten in the Dominican. And we have the good players right now…14, 15 16,…and that’s the type of competition that we want to be.
HH: Ok, You’ve got other challenges too and I have heard somewhat about this – not with your Academy - but some of the problems that have happened in the Dominican. It’s now become a number one thing and a real big important thing for parents to have their kids get a chance to compete for a baseball contract. So with all the parents putting pressure on the kids to do well and get into Academies, and the Academies trying to get a bunch of kids and get them signed by teams, there’s been a lot of pressure there for, like, steroid abuse and false birth certificates and such. And you have got to compete with all these other Academies that are trying to sign kids that too old, and give some kids some steroids to pump them up so they can showcase them for a scout and such. Talk about your challenges that you’ve got to keep your kids clean, because I have read interviews and you are very committed to fight back against these things.
LP: Yeah, it IS hard, because normally I have my kids, and they would leave my Academy on the weekends and go home. So how would I stop them when they are home? Normally they want to be better, they know that steroids can make them better, that’s what they think. Until they see everything that is happening. You know, I let them know for sure. I have meetings every week. Let them know for sure, look, you get caught on it you will now be out of baseball for life, you are not going to be able to play. I mean, I can make a baseball player, you don’t need to take it. Just let me develop you. Let me do the job. You don’t need that. You just need to be good in the field.
But also now, talking about over-age and the competition, there are so many people who have kids that are 20, 21, and 22, trying to come back with a different age – 12, 15, 16 – that sometimes I take my kids to compete with them and there’s no way. Because I know my kids, I know what age they have, I know I haven’t had that problem that I sign a kid and they come with a different age. My kids are legal. But I know sometimes when I take them to those showcases it’s hard for my kids to compete. It’s hard for my kids to compete when the other guys you have there. You are giving me a guy who is 21 years old competing with a guy who’s a REAL 16 year-old, thinking that your guy is 16 when YOU know that this guy, in the top of your mind, that this guy, there’s no way he’s 16. Because I know what my 16 year-old can do, and they know when my kid, 16, can’t do what a 21 year-old kid can do. Even though you tell them hey, that kid ain’t 16, that’s something that you have to fight. That’s something that you have to deal with.
But, like I say, the kids 16 years old, that’s not the right age to get signed. I think t hey should forget about those 16’s, 17’s, and they should go back to sign the kids when they are 19, 20, 21 because that’s when they are really ready. Because you sign them being 16 with a little paper for what they do. And then when you find out that they are 20, why didn’t you sign them when they’ve been 20 and it’s not going to cost you all those millions of dollars?
You know what I’m saying? It’s hard. But you have to deal with the problems.
HH: So let’s review your Academy itself. You instruct your players between the ages of 14 and 17, how many players do you house at a time?
LP: Right now I have about twenty some players. I have about 12 American kids right now that I have for a summer camp, some kids from the United States which I work them for 2 or 3 months to get them ready to back into school and be better.
But for my school right now I can say that I have two players that are 18 and they are ready to go. I have four players that are 16, beside the one from Chile. I also have four players 15 years old and I have another four, 14, they are from 2011.
HH: What are the number of instructors you have, so the ratio of instructors to the players in your Academy?
LP: I have, yeah, I have two pitching coaches. I have me and my son, we do the infield and the outfield and the hitting so we are at four, and the field coordinator ( a guy to make sure that the kids are there on time, that the equipment is outside). So we are, like, five guys total.
HH: Describe a typical day in your Academy for one of your players.
LP: We get there, we start, at 8:45. We got thirty minutes of stretch. We get the guys loose. Then we throw for 10 minutes. We do infield first. They go infield for like 20 minutes. Then sometimes we do some situations, fundamentals, and then we go back to hitting. And that’s normally what we do, almost every day, three days a week. And then we have Tuesday and Thursday we plays games with other programs with other baseball academies around the city. There are eight more programs that we have here so we have, like, what we call a little tournament that we play every Tuesday and every Thursday.
So we work the kids three days a week: fundamentals, defense and hitting. Then we go straight to the games for two days. And then Saturday/Sunday they are off.
HH: So when do they finish at night? How long do they work in a day?
LP: About 1:00
HH: About 1:00 in the afternoon.
LP: About 1:00
HH: You’ve been quoted elsewhere discussing your current crop of prospects. Arbienny Martinez, Alberto Manyeti, your own son Rodney, Elvis Martinez, Carlos Garcia. Now we know you plan is to hold Rodney out and send him to college, but, uh, do you any feel yet for how well the others are going to do in terms of signings this year?
LP: I think that we are going to sign Garcia. In fact, right now I am on my way to Santo Domingo because Rodney has a couple of tryouts. He has a tryout tomorrow [ed. 2/28/2009] with Boston and another tryout on Wednesday [ed. 2/29/2009] with the Yankees.
LP: Yeah. I want him to go over to school there, but I don’t think that we are going to attack that one. I think that he will be signed before.
HH: Ok, Ok. Well, that’s news.
LP: That’s what he wants to be. And I think that I’m gonna give him the opportunity to sign early.
HH: Maybe we will see Rodney sign with the Yankees and we will see Rodney come up through the Yankee organization, huh?
LP: It would be nice. It would be nice.
HH: They got a really good program, obviously. You know that. Do you have any news on some of the other players, you know, from past years? Jorge Madera, Hendry Colon, Alvaro Vidal?
LP: Yeah. Vidal? He’s almost 20 years old.
LP: And that’s a kid that is ready to play right now, but they don’t want him. Because he is going to be 20. That is what I am trying to tell them, that kid is ready to play summer leagues right now. But they would rather go with a kid who is 16 then go with him because he is going to be 20.
You see, for now, if Vidal would come with a birth certificate that says he is 16, now they won’t give up, this morning, to this kid because he is 16 and he has all this ability. But, at 16 years old he cannot have the ability that he has right now!
You see? That’s the problem.
LP: And it’s going to be hard for me to try and get him signed. They don’t want to deal with 20 year old right now. They want to deal with a 16, a 17.
You see, Carlos Garcia, he is a shortstop. Boston is going to see him tomorrow [ed. 2/28/2009], but is going to see him as a pitcher because his arm, right now, he is throwing 88, 89. And he hasn’t even been on the mound. We just put him on the mound the other day and he started throwing and they wanted to see him from the mound and he started throwing 88, 89 with no mechanics. So we want to try and see if we can get him signed as a pitcher.
HH: You know, in your experience here in the United States, in our Minor League program we don’t have 16 year-old kids. They gotta be 18 years old, be out of high school. Right? [ed. note: I know, I know…let it be. I’m making a different point here…]
HH: You got Vidal he’s 20, he is still of a good age to come over here and be in the Minor League system for a couple of years and work his way up like you did. Why would you think that a Vidal – just because he is 20 – is not going to sign?
LP: Because they don’t want him! I showed him to every single under section here! And they say ’Yeah, um, he could probably play ball, but we are looking for the July 2nd guy’. And it’s so sad, because now is when the kid is ready to play.
HH: So, what our Major League teams do is that they try and sign the kids when they are young, they are like, 16 years old, and put them into baseball programs and Academies in Latin American countries? We don’t bring them over here and put them in our own Minor League system?
LP: They keep them here. They wait until the kids are 20 years. They take them over there and they give them a shot to go through Minor Leagues. And they develop the kids themselves.
HH: I have just two last questions to ask you. The first one is where do you see your Academy going in the next 5 years?
LP: Oh, well, I think that we are going great! We have the kids for the 2010 and the 2011 all ready. That’s when we are really going to hit the spot. You know, I mean, we have one kid, maybe you get the chance to go to my web site [ed. http://www.poloniabaseballacademy.com], the name is Edwin Espinal, who is 6’2", 15 years old, first baseman, he is at 220 pounds. That’s going to be the kid right there, for next year, in this country.
And we are headed [in the right direction] really well. We now know the situation, We now know what we are looking for, and we get out there and are getting it. I mean, we have four kids for 2010 already. We have four kids for 2011. And this is just getting better.
HH: Good. And so you think that 2010 and 2011, that’s when you are really going to hit the mark, huh?
LP: Exactly. I think that’s going to be our explosion years.
HH: Great. I’ll go to your web site even as we talk here actually, I’ll go to your web site and see if I can find this young man.
LP: Yeah.Go to, also, www.luispoloniapba.com which is Polonia Baseball Academy. That’s another web site that I have. It’s more up to date. You can check that one, too. [ed. warning! Mute your volume first! Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Although, it is a pretty hip Luis Polonia theme song that autoplays ont he main page!]
HH: Ok. I’ll do that.
HH: And, finally, one last question here. Christie Gibson seems to be one of your biggest promoters, of you and your Academy and your players here. So tell me about Christie. Who is she, and what does she have to do with your Academy?
LP: It’s unbelievable. I met Christie in 1985. Jose Canseco used to live in Christie’s house that year, in Hunstville, when she was 15 years old. I met her, and I met her mom, because of the relationship they had with Jose Canseco at that time. And we had been lost for a while and all of a sudden we found each other through Facebook and the Internet. Christie found me there. She sent me a note: ‘Hi, this is Christie, the young girl you met in Hunstville where Jose Canseco used to live, blah blah blah…" I knew exactly who she was. I accept her [ed. into his Facebook friend list] then, and we started communicating. And I have to tell you, she has been the greatest. I have fun in my life again because she has put my Academy on top, she has put Luis Polonia right back there where he belongs, and she has been a great asset to me and my Avademy.
HH: That’s awesome. She was the one who you and your Academy to our attention at SBNation.com and to the Angels fan blog here. So, hat’s off, she is doing a fine job for you. She also thinks that she can keep our fans in contact with your players as they get signed and, going forward, maybe help promote your players in their careers too. So that’s a good thing for you that you have someone like that helping you out.
Any last things you would like to share with your Angels fans, about your Academy, about your career, about you and where you are going?
LP: First of all I want to thank your beautiful fans. I want to let them know that even though I played 5 times for the Yankees, I played for the Orioles, I went to the Braves, I never had the opportunity to go to a playoff with the Angels. But I want to let them know that they were the best fans I ever had. That was the best team I ever played with and the best team I ever had. In my mind, in my heart, the Angels have been my number one team and the one that gave me the chance to play for the first time being an every day ballplayer in the Major Leagues, and gave me the chance to be somebody. I love the Angels, I love the fans. I love the people there and I think they are really great.
And I hope that the Angels organization gets my message. I would love to be the scout, the main guy, for Latin America, for the Angels. That would be the highlight of my career.
HH: Well, thank you sir. From a long time Angel fan going back to 1966, whose followed the Angels up and down and seen ballplayers good and bad come and go, let me tell you from my heart I think you for being an Angel, I thank you for showing this fan an exciting way to play baseball, and I thank you very much for your kind words for our fans.
Let’s see if we can fix some of these Dominican players that are no longer in our system, who we know are carrying our team today. They are not going to be around forever, and we are going to have to replace them. So let’s see if we can help you become part of the Angels organization again.
LP: Well, thank you very much. And I want to ell all my people in Anaheim and the whole area that if you want your ballplayer to be as good a hitter as Luis Polonia, I am here to work with them. They can go to my website. They can get information about my Academy. And I would be more than glad to work with them and make them a better hitter and a better baseball player.
HH: Very good. Thank you, sir. Thank you very much for your time today. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. I appreciate very much the information that we have had a chance to share.
LP: Thank you very much. My pleasure.
HH: God bless you, sir.
(interview conducted on 7/27/2009. All images used with permission.)
[Concluding comment: I want to apologize on behalf of Luis right now, if anyone reading this interview felt anything but interest and respect for him. In truth, he was very warm and gracious. Not nearly as conceited as my transcribing of his oral interview may have rubbed some of you. In some cases, I really did struggle with the audio and the accent. Those are all my fault, not Luis'. To do this, I caught Luis while he was driving a car to Santo Domingo, D.R, with his son at his side, on their way to tryouts for the Yankees. He was using a cellphone, and I was using an office speakerphone which I played into my laptop mic, running Audacity to record. Not the best scenario, and easy to lose information in the process. Again, my fault, using the tools in hand rather than preparing the technology. I still have the full audio track. Listening to it in real time gives a sense of a very nice man, passionate about baseball, still reveling in the successes of his life, still hoping to do good things, honorably. If you got some other impression, my bad.]