The UCF English Language Institute renewed a partnership this week with the Atlanta Braves to teach language and cultural programs for young baseball prospects from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Cuba and Nicaragua. The program, which launched in April and graduated its inaugural class Aug. 22, welcomes a new group of players today for 18 weeks of instruction in conjunction with their baseball training at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

“The Atlanta Braves are not experts in language skills, and we wanted to partner with someone who was,” says Ron Knight, manager of minor league administration for the Atlanta Braves. “The UCF English Language Institute offers the best English instructors in Central Florida, and we were comfortable partnering with an institution that graduates thousands of students every semester from all over the world.”

ELI — which provides high-quality English language education and multicultural awareness programs for international students and professionals — created a custom program to suit the individual needs of the prospects, who play for the GCL Braves and the Florida Fire Frogs, minor league affiliates of the Atlanta Braves major league team.

“This was a special project, so we developed weekly modules that blend language instruction with cultural activities,” says Rey Ceron, an English as a Second Language instructor with ELI who facilitated the program. “We focus on speaking, listening and grammar, and use mock locker room interviews with microphones and headsets, along with simple games such as bingo and Uno, to reinforce the instruction.”

Classes meet three times per week for one hour at the players’ hotel after they finish workouts. Ceron says the cultural lessons are as important as the language education.

“For most of the players, it’s their first time away from home and some of the customs that are common in their countries are not the same in American culture,” he says. “Simple things that maybe you and I don’t even think about… we try to help them avoid these types of mistakes.”

For the Braves organization, the ELI program is a natural and important complement to the players’ training on the field.

“We believe that setting these young men up for life after baseball is just as important as teaching them the proper way to throw a pitch,” Knight says. “And we are sure that the first step down this path is to teach them the English language and break down the main barrier holding them back when they first arrive to the United States.”

Competition for the Braves roster is high, and most of the prospects will not earn an opportunity to play at the major league level. For them, the language instruction can be of great value in building a future outside of baseball.

“This is a huge opportunity for these players because only five percent of them are going to make it to the major league,” says Nestor Perez, manager of the GCL Braves and a former athlete from Cuba who played for the Tampa Bay Rays. “This program is going to help them be somebody even if they don’t make it in baseball.”

And as the young men develop both on the baseball diamond and in the classroom, so does the partnership between the Braves organization and ELI, which is a unit of UCF Global.

“We trust that this program will continue to grow from here as we continue to develop baseball players on the field and well-rounded young men off the field,” Knight says. “Having a partner like UCF to offer the best instruction in Central Florida certainly gives the program the necessary credibility we were looking for to make it successful this year and in the future.”