NEW YORK -- Forty-four boys, each dressed in a bright blue graduation gown, met Carlos Beltran on stage Monday morning. One by one they received a handshake and a high school diploma. Some were also recognized with special academic awards for being at the top of their class. Others were singled out for their athletic improvement during their three-year stay.
But a certain dozen of those boys, in particular, caught Beltran's eye.
Before the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy held its first classes in August 2011, teenagers from all across Puerto Rico showcased their skills at a baseball tryout, hopeful of being selected for enrollment. Among those who earned admittance were 12 boys who had previously made plans to drop out of school. Finishing a high school education had not been of interest.
On Monday, not only did those 12 boys receive their diplomas, they each walked across the stage with a college scholarship awaiting them at a United States university this fall.
"When you see that, you wonder what would have happened if that place wasn't there," Beltran said after returning from his one-day visit to the Academy. "Being able to impact those 12 kids in that manner, that made me so happy and made me convinced that what we're doing is the right thing."
Beltran's stay in Puerto Rico lasted only about 12 hours. He took a private plane from Cincinnati, landing about four hours before the Academy's first ever graduation ceremony. By 10 p.m. ET, he was back in New York City, preparing for a Tuesday game against the Mets.
In between, however, he passed out diplomas, posed for pictures and found himself emotional as he addressed students and parents during the ceremony. Looking on were his own parents, his wife and his two young daughters.
"When I look at myself now and think back to when I was growing up, what we went through as a family and the sacrifice that my mom and dad made to raise me and my brothers ... being in that moment, all the flashbacks were coming to my mind," Beltran said. "I got emotional just seeing my mom and dad there. I thanked them so much, because I am the person that I am now because of them and their discipline."
Beltran's academy services 145 students in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades, all of whom have aspirations to one day follow in his Major League footsteps. But cognizant of how difficult the path is from Puerto Rico to the big leagues, Beltran established the school to be centered around academics. Students have to maintain a certain grade point average to remain enrolled.
His belief is that the education gained will provide a fallback for those whose baseball careers have a short shelf life.
"At the end of the day, I know in their heart that they want to become professionals," Beltran said. "And they think that they're going to sign as a professional. But they'll realize that later on, it's difficult. It's difficult to be selected in the Draft. It's a benefit that you can use baseball to get a scholarship and continue to study and have a career. When I see that, it's just unbelievable for me."
For those who weren't alongside Beltran in Puerto Rico on Monday, the significance of the day was relayed through the passion with which he described the event afterward. He put it in some context, too, unhesitant when asked how this ranked among the other accomplishments during his 16-year career.
"For me, this is going to be the best accomplishment in my career as a ballplayer," Beltran said. "Baseball is something that will come and go, but this is something that I just hope will stay for years to come. I think this will be a place that will last longer than my career will last as a professional ballplayer. And the impact that it's going to have on the kids is incredible."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.