Appearances by general managers at academies in the Dominican Republic are common. An audience with a field manager is not.
But it's almost certain that the teens didn't know exactly who Kirk Gibson is until he simulated the famous gesture of his game-winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Gibson fist-pumped a few times, then it all clicked for the prospects.
And in the end, that was the point of the visit. Gibson, GM Kevin Towers and Craig Shipley, the assistant to the GM, spent three days in the Dominican Republic this week to see prospects in the MLB Amateur Prospect League international showcase, but they were also there to remind the prospects already enrolled in their academy how lucky they are to have the chance to live out their dreams.
Catcher Miguel Montero made a special trip from his home in Venezuela to help drive home the point. And he did so quite literally, taking batting practice with the prospects.
"I was given the opportunity in times of my life, and it was important that they realized that this is the beginning of one of their opportunities and to make good with it," Gibson said. "It takes you back, and you compare where you were at their age and where you were at. For me, I came up through baseball, and I wanted them to know how fortunate they were to have the opportunity."
The D-backs' contingent visited with the players at the academy on Wednesday morning and attended the showcase in San Cristobal later that afternoon. The trio returned to San Cristobal for two prospect games on Thursday before making their way back to Arizona on Friday.
Approximately 300 scouts and baseball officials attended the showcase, but Gibson was the only Major League manager in attendance. Towers and Milwaukee's Doug Melvin were the only GMs there, but all 30 teams were represented.
The rules for signing players on the international market have changed, and that's part of the reason an event such as the MLB showcase was so well attended.
In accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the amount clubs are allowed to spend on the international market for players eligible to sign on July 2 will be based largely on their 2012 records. The pools for each team will range from an estimated $4.9 million (for the lowest winning percentage) to $1.8 million (for the highest). Last year, teams were allotted $2.9 million to spend without penalty. In addition, clubs will be allowed to trade pool money.
"Nowadays there is more of an equal playing field," Towers said. "I don't think it's just the D-backs making a push. Now that there is a certain amount allotted, I would say most clubs are going to use that. Anywhere we can find talent, we will. If you are able to get it through the Draft, you have an opportunity to get good young players here in Latin America."
Last year the D-backs spent more than $2 million on eight prospects, with the biggest bonuses going to Ismael Pena ($750,000) and Sergio Alcantara ($700,000).
Like most teams, the D-backs are evaluating players, gauging the market and determining which prospects fit best. One of their goals this week was to make an impact on the prospects they have already signed.
"I talked to the guys about having a dream. I had a dream when I was that age, and I asked them if they ever thought about what their dream was," Gibson said. "If you don't think that way, in my opinion, it's really hard to be as devout. And the way you get there is through each other. It's not a singular thing. It's us collectively [working] together to learn and get better and push each other, help each other when we are down and look at each other in the mirror when we need it."
By the end of Gibson's speech on Wednesday, his fist-pump proved to be little more than a nice icebreaker. The prospects learned who he is and had a better understanding of what they could be in the future.
"My dream was to be in a World Series parade. That's just the ultimate," Gibson said. "When I won the MVP, there were probably 40 or 50 there, and it stunk. But having a World Series party with a million people there, the entire city, the organization, fans and teammates, that really makes you feel good, and that's what we are really all after. You also want to be productive and give back the things we have learned. You remember that the day will come when you have to give back and make sure others get the opportunity that I had. That's where I am at."