Many of the students were baseball players, however—good ones. Orestes (Minnie) Minoso-Arrieta is only one of those, but because his father is the durable and exciting Minnie who played for 15 seasons in the majors and compiled a .299 lifetime batting average young Minnie has drawn a lot of attention. When asked recently what kind of a chance he thought he had to make it to the majors, he said, "I have a 100% chance. I'm learning things at the academy that are going to help me get there a lot faster than other kids."
The students accepted at the academy must take 12 hours of credits at nearby Manatee Junior College, which is coeducational. So much for Parris Island. Among other things, Kauffman wants them to learn enough about business and public relations to insure that they will not lose their shirts in investments he expects them to make with the money they earn from baseball. Each morning the player-students pile on a bus and go off to school. They return to the academy for lunch and then go out to play and learn baseball. The baseball faculty consists of two former major league managers, Johnny Neun and Jim Lemon; Steve Korcheck, a catcher for the Washington Senators from 1954-59 and later baseball coach at George Washington; Bill Easton, the onetime University of Kansas track coach; Wes Santee, the famous miler; and former major-leaguer Chuck Stobbs.
The academy opened Aug. 10, and Thrift is encouraged by the youngsters' development. "I believe that when these boys go into the Gulf Coast League 80% of them will do well," he says. "For one thing, they get 30 minutes of live hitting every day, and that doesn't go on anywhere else in baseball. We believe we can do as much here to help an athlete along as anyplace else in sports. And certainly more than anyplace else in baseball."
On a bulletin board in the hallway of the main dorm at the academy is a rating chart. Some of the categories: producing sacrifice flies, swinging to aid a player in a steal, aiding the runner while in the on-deck circle, signs and pickoffs. There are no batting averages. Each student has been asked to try switch hitting, and those who find it comfortable press forward with it. Running speed is constantly being tested at a distance of 60 yards, and the majority of players now cover the ground in seven seconds or less, an average figure for major league players.
Before starting the tryouts, the Royals tested some 150 professional players to find out their physical attributes. The results of this study of abilities helped in selecting candidates for the school and in judging their progress. The instructors, in fact, feel they have a better line on their players than most scouts ever do, if for no other reason than that their boys appear in a lot more games than most prospects.
"At the academy we really believe we can put our boys over many hurdles without having them discouraged at an early stage," says Thrift. "In the time we have been at the academy we have noted tremendous changes in individuals from month to month. The fear of failure is the biggest hurdle of all for an athlete, and if we can get him over that, it would be something."
Aside from two years of junior college education, including room, board and books, a student at the academy receives $100 a month for the first 90 days; $150 for the next 90 days and then $200 up to the time the Gulf Coast League opens. He may stay in the academy two years.
Walter Shannon, the director of scouting for the Baltimore Orioles, paid a visit to the academy and said, "I'm excited about it. It's the type of forward thinking in player development that has been needed, and the ideas and results that will come out of there are things that could change many of the ideas people have held on to for perhaps too long a period of time."
Kauffman is convinced that his idea will work and the day will come when a world championship team made up of graduates of the academy will take the field for Kansas City. In August, when Kauffman spoke to his first class, he told the players, "The eyes of the baseball world are on you. When you succeed, the other 23 clubs are going to try the same method. They will be so far behind they will never catch up."