By Jerry Durney
For Florida Tech pitcher Boris Villa ’21, baseball has been a part of life since the day he was born. Growing up in Barranquilla, Colombia, as the son of a former minor league player-turned-scout for the New York Mets and Texas Rangers, Villa saw firsthand many aspects of life inside professional baseball.
Name a major leaguer from Colombia and odds are that Villa not only knows the player, but he has some type of kinship with him. Among his closest acquaintances on the diamond are Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Luis Patiño and Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher José Quintana, a former All-Star whom Villa credits with helping him earn Second Team All-Sunshine State Conference and ABCA/Rawlings All-Region honors following the 2021 season.
Those up-close experiences allowed Villa to see the other side of the sport. About 10% of all minor league baseball players eventually make the major leagues. Even those with “generational talent” or “can’t-miss prospects” sometimes don’t make it to “The Show” for any number of reasons.
For young players who come from South America and the Caribbean, the goal is not only to make the majors but to earn the kind of money that can be impactful for their families and communities for generations. This can lead them to develop a singular focus on their sport, often foregoing an education. When those dreams don’t become reality, these young men are left at square one.
“I saw it a lot,” Villa says. “After two years, they got released, and then they didn’t even have a high school degree, so they didn’t have anything to lean back on.”
Seeing so many of these stories caused Villa, who graduated in 2021 with his bachelor’s in business administration and is scheduled to graduate with his MBA in summer 2022, to look inward and wonder what he could do to change it. While he chases his own dreams of one day reaching the big leagues, in 2017, Villa helped to create Fundación Inspira Colombia (Inspiration Foundation Colombia) and Top Prospects Colombia.
The goal of the two organizations is to help create exposure for athletes across all sports in Colombia to enable them to eventually earn a scholarship to a school in the United States and receive an education that will help provide a second career after their playing days come to an end.
Villa, who has been named an Outstanding Student of the Year by the Nathan M. Bisk College of Business the past two years, sees the long-term benefits of a college education, like the careers they can pursue following graduation. This will allow scholar-athletes to eventually create change for good in their communities and inspire others to do the same.
“I want people to be able to help their hometowns also because they’re going to go back with a degree that they can use to better their family and neighbors, as well,” he says. “So, they have another option that’s going to allow them to make money.”
Part of what drove Villa to lead these two organizations was his first experiences in America while attending junior college.
“I just wanted to give more young athletes the opportunity that I was experiencing here,” Villa says. “When I came here, to the United States, I was like, ‘Oh, this is awesome!’ So, I just wanted to pass it on.”
“Since I came to Florida Tech, it has been a great experience,” Tapia says. “Meeting new people, studying in a foreign country and playing baseball at a high level. It’s one of my biggest dreams, and I’m really enjoying my time here. Now, I’m supporting Boris with his program through Inspira and helping those guys that have the talent to come study and play baseball here, in the United States.”
“It has been a great experience, and I feel that all my expectations have been met,” says Garcia, who has been friends with Villa since childhood. “I couldn’t ask for a better education than the one that I’m receiving from Florida Tech. Now, I’m also part of the project, and we will continue helping people, just as he helped me, to find a place in the United States to play baseball and get a higher education.”
Panther baseball head coach Jeff Tam has attended multiple showcases in Colombia in the past. What stood out the most to him was how much of a role model Villa has already become among his peers.
“It’s the fact that these kids that are only two, three, four years younger than Boris and the way they look up to him and the way they treat him with the utmost respect,” says Tam, a former major league pitcher. “They realize what he’s doing and what he has in place down in Colombia trying to find those guys homes for baseball and school. They look at him in a different light, and I think they appreciate what he’s doing.”
While Villa’s Panther career may have come to an end in May, he will continue to pursue his dream of reaching the major leagues and becoming colleagues with those who have helped mold him into the athlete he is today. Regardless, he has already made a difference, creating a brighter future for so many from his homeland.
This piece was featured in the spring 2022 edition of Florida Tech Magazine.