There isn’t a map from Guatemala to the big leagues because it hasn’t been done before – by anyone.
José Corrales finds himself somewhere in between a start-up business owner’s mindset and a pioneer dreaming of a road that has yet to be built. But he’s determined to achieve his goal.
Corrales wanted to play in the major leagues. Now he wants to work in professional baseball. What makes Corrales’ dream unique is the path he’s charting to make it a reality.
Guatemala has never produced a major league player. There have only been a handful of players to play professional baseball of any sort from the country.
Corrales’ parents are Nicaraguan. His paternal grandfather was a Yankees fan and loved coaching the game. Corrales’ early memories are from attending youth league games his cousins were playing in and the excitement of the competition. From a young age, he fell in love with baseball.
He was a good pitcher as a kid who started to get noticed by scouts at international workouts. But the number of scouts who attended events in Guatemala, and the sincerity of the offers, were limited. The lack of depth and quality of prospects to come from the country limited the willingness of teams to send scouts there.
Corrales played in international Little League tournaments and eventually joined the national team. But an injury cost him the opportunity to sign as a teenager.
Corrales actually feels fortunate that the injury kept him from possibly signing.
“[The injury] actually ended up being a good thing for me because most of the players that ended up signing professional contracts with here in Guatemala didn’t make it,” Corrales said. “They’re back in Guatemala with nothing, just trying to get their life together, trying to get to school.”
Corrales continued his education and playing baseball. At the end of high school, he tried out with a group in Florida. The opportunity to continue playing came from Jamestown Community College, where he played for one season. Corrales then transferred to Nyack College, a Division II school in upstate New York. He completed his college education and played baseball there for three years.
He still dreamed of the big leagues and attended a few tryouts. One option that was open was an independent summer league in Canada. He played there but didn’t pitch much because of a nagging shoulder issue that flared up during his senior year at Nyack.
Over the winter, however, Corrales went to the Central American Games. His father was helping run a tournament that was attended by someone from Major League Baseball’s international operations. Corrales volunteered to drive and translate for him.
A diversion in the path to professional baseball presented itself.
Shane Barkley, the MLB rep, talked to Corrales while they were together in the car and while Corrales was translating for him on that trip. They walked about Corrales’ aspirations of working in the game.
“I wanted to play baseball but got hurt,” he remembered. “I had no idea about the whole baseball industry and that there are so many jobs. He started telling me about some of the roles in baseball and I was like ‘Yeah, that sounds like fun.’”
At the same time, Corrales’ father was on the Board of Directors for Little League in Latin America. He reached out to Little League International to see if there were any opportunities. The door opened again for Corrales; Little League was looking for a translator for its World Series in 2017.
“It was awesome,” he recalled. “I was living a dream going to the Little League World Series. Except I wasn’t playing – I was working.”
Corrales stayed in touch with Barkley and was introduced to an internship opportunity with MLB in the Dominican Republic. From January to June in 2018 Corrales worked as an operations intern with MLB. He returned to Pennsylvania late in the summer to work for the Little League World Series again.
Following that experience, Little League reached back out for assistance translating the rule book into Spanish. It was a good experience, Corrales noted, but he was ready for something bigger.
The Next Level
When Corrales returned to Guatemala after spending most of 2018 either working for MLB in the Dominican Republic or at the Little League World Series he found a new opportunity closer to home. A professional league had started. Corrales’ experience in the game was valued by the business leaders investing in the new league and they asked him to help with branding and marketing.
Corrales spent the winter working with the start-up league in Guatemala learning different roles in personnel while also keeping an eye on his dream in MLB.
A connection at MLB introduced Corrales to Tyrone Brooks, the director of diversity and inclusion at MLB. He told Corrales the career fair at the Winter Meetings would be a great place to look for the next step in his journey and invited him to attend.
“I applied to any possible job I found,” he said. “When I got back to Guatemala I didn’t know what to expect.”
Eventually, a call came from the Bowie Baysox, the Double-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. Corrales joined their staff for the 2019 season working in their Latino programs as part of the Baysox becoming Los Cangrejos Fantasmas de Chesapeake in the Copa de la Diversión.
Minor League Baseball can be an awkward place when you’re working on a seasonal contract.
“I left before the championship game,” he said. “We finished at the end of August. I was planning to stay but my boss said they didn’t need anyone to run any new promotions during the playoffs. So I traveled back to Guatemala to help start the professional league season.”
Corrales made the move to the Lobos this year in the four-team professional league. They are now recruiting international players to the league and working a week-long schedule. However, all of the games are played in the same park because there is only one baseball stadium. According to Corrales they still draw between 2-3,000 fans for games.
Corrales’ experience with the Baysox is paying immediate dividends with the Lobos. He’s doing everything from recruiting players and offering contracts to ordering uniforms, managing the team’s Facebook page and negotiating the local media for additional attention on the team.
“It’s obviously not even close to what a GM does for a minor league or major league team in the United States, but it’s a smaller version,” he said. “The experience with Bowie was the first time I was part of a team. When you actually have a team with real players you have a team to root for.
“I liked my Bowie experience a lot because you identify with the players and learn a lot about them – not only as a player but as a person as well.”
Corrales continues learning in every role he takes on as he builds a path to the big leagues. He has taken something away from each step of his career path to date and looks forward to the next steps in Guatemala and, hopefully, in professional baseball back in the United States soon.
“The experience of working in the minors prepared me best for the pro league here in Guatemala,” he said. “Little league was my first baseball-related experience and being there was a dream. Being in the minors is a grind and I got to see more of the business side [of baseball] and how to bring people to the stadium and give them a good experience.”
Featured Image: Bowie Baysox (Website)