Donald K. Odermann has a mission: to encourage Latin American baseball players not only to finish high school but to enroll in college.
A stockbroker from San Jose, Calif., Odermann is chairman of the Latin American Educational Development Fund, a nonprofit charitable foundation formed in 1982 to give Latin ballplayers an alternative to dropping out of high school and turning pro.
"I wanted to try to help solve what I considered a serious social problem," said Odermann, a former collegiate baseball player at Santa Clara and Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia. "I'd heard stories of too many Latin ballplayers who had left high school to accept small signing bonuses, then be released a year or two later."
Odermann's foundation has brought 26 athletes from Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to 15 colleges, universities, junior colleges and intensive English-language schools. The program has been expanded to include male and female athletes from all sports and, soon, Odermann hopes to assist nonathlete students as well.
"We're not trying to discourage athletes from playing professional sports," Odermann said. "We'd just like to see them become professionals after they have received an education."
The foundation has received financial support from the Oakland A's, Los Angeles Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays, as well as several major league players, including Dominican stars Damaso Garcia and Alfredo Griffin.
"Our goal is to produce college graduates who will return to their countries and apply their skills in the development of their own countries," Odermann said. "We just want to offer Latin ballplayers an alternative."