Islander Francisco Laureano got to experience American dream while at Atlantic City HighBy DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Francisco Laureano is a little different than most teenagers. His parents live in a different country and at the age of 17 he struck out on his own for the promise of better opportunities than the Dominican Republic offered. He’s a naturally gifted baseball player who has speed, can hit with power and also throw in the high 80s on the mound. He also speaks four languages.
Laureano has made the most of his two short years in the United States, graduating from Atlantic City High School and hoping to have a chance to continue his baseball career into college when he enrolls at Cumberland County College this fall.
“When I was 15 years old, I moved to the Dominican Republic for my baseball career. But I got injured and went back home to live with my parents. My old coach from youth league had a contact in Curacao, so I went to play baseball there. I have a cousin (in Atlantic City), so I called her and she was OK with being my guardian. She said I should come to the high school here and see what I could do,” Laureano said. “I came in the summer and it was pretty hot, just like home. I liked it. When I got here, I only knew my one cousin, who is a freshman, and some of her friends. When I first got here, I couldn’t really speak English. I just knew the basic stuff. At my house, they were speaking Spanish, but I asked them to speak English to me so I could learn it better.”
One thing that stuck out to Atlantic City baseball coach Brent Bean right away was Laureano’s confidence.
“When he first came to school, after he met with the guidance counselor, he said, ‘now I need you to introduce me to the baseball coach.’ So I thought that was a pretty funny story when I heard that. He has very good size, and when I first met him he told me he played baseball, and I said, ‘OK, great, we’ll see you at the tryout.’ He said, ‘coach, I’m a very good player.’ So when a young kid comes up to you and says something like that, it tells you a little bit about his mentality. He’s a very confident young man, and that was one of the first things that stood out to me,” Bean said. “His first day in Atlantic City High School, not really knowing anybody, and the first thing he wanted to do was to meet the baseball coach.”
“I’ve always had confidence about what I could do and what type of baseball player I am,” Laureano said. “Coming here, the language is different and the way they play is different. Over here, everybody is quiet when they are playing. Nobody is quiet in the Dominican Republic. But I just tried to fit myself into the situation and play baseball.”
The past two years have been a constant transitional period for Laureano, both on and off the baseball field. He’s had to learn a new language and new customs. Being born on the island of Boaire, an island in the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, he grew up speaking Dutch, Papiamento (a Spanish Creole language spoken in the Dutch Caribbean) and Spanish, and knew very little English when he came to Atlantic City.
“When I first moved it was hard to be away from my parents. I had been with them for more than 15 years, and now I’ve been away from them for two years,” he said. “(Graduation) is going to be awesome, because I’m the only one in my family who has been able to make it this far. I hope my family is proud of me. I stopped going to school for two years when I moved to the Dominican Republic and thought I would never go back to school.”
Laureano also had to learn how to adapt to American baseball, which has a very different style than the game played in the Dominican Republic. There, baseball has a carnival like atmosphere and showing off after getting a big hit is just part of the fun.
“I think down in the Dominican Republic it’s a much more flashy style, and that’s one thing we had to harness when he first got here. He wanted to be very flashy instead of just making the routine play. He wanted to make the routine play look good. So that was a little bit of a habit we had to break him out of,” Bean said. “Offensively, he had a little bit of a disappointing senior year, but he was seeing less fastballs than he was his junior year, and that’s going to happen. Coaches talk. But that’s part of our job as coaches is to help players make the adjustments and coaching him about what different pitches look like.”
But his outgoing personality made it easy for him to make friends at the high school and fit in with his teammates.
“He has a lot of charisma and a lot of energy. He’s one of those kids who everybody kind of gravitates to. His personality alone, he’s very positive toward his teammates and kids gravitate to that. And once they saw his ability it gave him even more of a presence,” Bean said. “When he came in, we could see he had some tools but he was very raw. It was just taking that kid and trying to harness all those skills — trying to do the smaller things a little bit better, hitting to right field, being able to get bunts down. Those were the things I saw the most growth out of him. Getting him to understand that he doesn’t need to hit a home run every time at the plate and doesn’t need to throw it 90 miles-per-hour across the diamond when we just need an out. Those were things he got a lot better at during his senior year.”
Atlantic City also turned out to be a perfect fit for the young man. It’s one of the most diverse schools in all of South Jersey and has a lot of Spanish speaking students.
“I think him coming to Atlantic City, especially having a lot of kids who are from his country and speak the language fluently, that made for an easy transition for him to the United States,” Bean explained. “Atlantic City has a ton of diversity, and not just in our baseball program, but throughout our school. And he’s not one of those kids who gets in trouble in classes, he’s not a disciplinary issue, and a lot of kids gravitated to that. He has fun, like any high school kid will. Walking down the hall he’s slapping hands with everybody.”
Still, there were some growing pains. Bean and the coaching staff had to teach Laureano the lesson that if you’re not performing up to expectations, you get a seat on the bench, no matter what kind of raw talent you might have.
“We’ve had our share of Dominican players, but Francisco is a little bit different because he was there all the way until he was 16. It was a challenge at first, but once he understood the way we do things, he was able to conform to that,” Bean said. “There were a couple times during his junior year when I had to sit him down because he wasn’t performing, and I think that might have been a little bit of a shock to him. But, he was an excellent teammate on the bench, and that speaks a lot about a young kid. He was expecting to play every day and coach sits him down, but he was right there cheering on his teammates, and that was nice to see.”
“I learned a lot from the coaches here. One thing I learned from coach Bean is to not over-think and do too much, to just relax in the batter’s box. And to just be confident and do what I know how to do,” Laureano said. “Last year, it was hard to make adjustments. The first pitch, I was going for it trying to get a hit. Pitchers were trying to make adjustments, so I just tried to do my best and be coachable.”
Looking back on the past two years, Laureano said his time in the United States has changed him tremendously. Not only has he gained a lot of new friends and a lot of knowledge about the game of baseball, but he’s also realizing that the American dream that a lot of teenagers might take for granted is well within his reach.
“My life has changed in a blink the last two years. I’m surprised about it, and kind of scared because things are happening so fast. But, I’m glad God gave me the talent to make it here. When I was 11 or 12 years old, my dream was always to live in the United States. Playing baseball in the United States, I never really thought about it, but it happened. There aren’t as many ways to make your goals come true like here in the United States. Bonaire is a small island. Here there are bigger opportunities,” he said. “My goal is to go to Cumberland for two years, do the best I can do, and try to make it to a Division II or Division I college, and continue my studies. I want to be a physical education teacher.”
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays