ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays are spreading their wings to Brazil.
On Thursday, the Rays announced they have built a partnership with the city of Marilia, Brazil, that will include construction of a training facility beginning in the first quarter of 2009, which will be the first baseball academy in Brazil run by a Major League organization.
"It's [a project] that is obviously a long-term initiative," said Andrew Friedman, the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations. "We don't think it's something that's going to pay dividends in a year from now, necessarily."
Friedman said Rays special assistant to baseball operations Andres Reiner has worked hard on this project for the past year and that based on the number of athletes in the area -- most of whom have not focused on baseball in the past -- the project could turn out to be special if the Rays can improve the popularity of baseball.
The academy will be constructed jointly by the local and federal governments, and will consist of two full playing fields, two diamonds for youth teams, and dormitories, which will accommodate up to 40 players. Adriano de Souza, who was hired in 2008 to scout Brazil for the Rays, will coordinate the academy.
"This is an exciting opportunity for us to be a pioneer in a country we feel will be the next major source of baseball talent," said Rays senior vice president of baseball operations Gerry Hunsicker. "It is also an opportunity for us to help introduce our game to a country with a great young athletic population."
In addition to scouting for baseball talent in a country with a population of 200 million, the Rays will also introduce baseball to groups between 7 and 14 years of age in the Marilia area.
"As part of this, we're going to make our instructors available and begin by teaching the fundamentals of baseball to a number of prospective coaches in the area to help make baseball more popular there," Friedman said. "We feel like if that does happen, it will be a hotbed in the next 10 to 15 years for young amateur players."
Baseball, although overshadowed by soccer and track and field in Brazil, is widely played in the southern part of the country, where the academy will be located. Currently, there are a dozen Brazilians in the Minor League systems of Major League Baseball. No Brazilian has ever made it to the Major Leagues.
"While we do not expect to produce a Major League player overnight, we are confident that young men with dreams of playing in the World Series will be discovered and developed in Brazil," Reiner said. "We are also very pleased that we will be teaching baseball to the young people in the region."
The Rays also operate baseball academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.