PEORIA, Ariz. -- As Mariners pitchers and catchers reported to the team's newly renovated Spring Training facility on Wednesday, team president Kevin Mather, general manager Jack Zduriencik and other club officials were winging to the Dominican Republic on a private charter.
Their pursuit? Not outfielder Nelson Cruz or pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, all Dominican natives who remain on the free-agent market, but rather the opening of a new Mariners baseball academy in Boca Chica that the club believes will greatly enhance its development and signing efforts of young players in the Caribbean nation.
The Mariners previously shared an older facility with the Dodgers in the Dominican Republic, but now will have a larger state-of-the-art complex that includes three full-sized fields, dormitories to house up to 80 prospects at a time, as well as classrooms and computer labs for young players to study English and other programs.
All 30 Major League teams have some presence in the Dominican, but competition is increasing in the baseball-rich country and Major League Baseball has pushed to improve facilities where youngsters can train and go to school.
With their $7 million investment, the Mariners are jumping to the top of that class and also will look to make their presence felt among upcoming talent in the region.
"We've moved into the middle of where all the action is," Zduriencik said. "We were isolated, secluded, and had a 45-minute drive just to get to one of the teams in Boca Chica to play. Now we're in the midst of that baseball hotbed. The old facility was run down. We really, really needed this and we did it right."
The 24-acre complex will host a grand opening Thursday that will be attended by the president of the Dominican Republic and the U.S. ambassador, as well as Mariners officials and Robinson Cano, the team's newest star who lives not far from the facility.
"Robinson is going to be there and be part of the festivities," Zduriencik said. "He wants to be part of it. It's a really nice message if you're a young player in the Dominican Republic and this brand new facility opens up and a guy like Robinson Cano endorses it. These big leaguers work out down there. They love it. The housing is fantastic. It's pretty nice."
The Mariners are also thrilled by their own newly remodeled Spring Training complex in Peoria, where 40 pitchers and catchers reported on Wednesday to take physical exams before hitting the field on Thursday for the first workout under new manager Lloyd McClendon and his staff.
The City of Peoria upgraded the Mariners' facility with a project that is just getting completed in time to open camp. The team will work out of a much larger clubhouse, both on the Major League and Minor League complexes, and the offices and training facilities have all been completely renovated as well.
"When I walked in, I just said, 'Wow,'" Zduriencik said. "The players who have been here before can really appreciate this. We have room now. Guys are going to walk in here and it's first class. They'll walk into a facility where they'll feel like big leaguers. And the Minor Leaguers are going to feel things are impressive. Everyone involved in this should be commended."
The previous Peoria complex was 35,700 square feet, while the new facility is 56,368 square feet, an increase of 158 percent.