Sometimes you have to be more than just a very good ballplayer to make it to the Major Leagues. You have to be noticed, too. A prime example: Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista.

Last season's home run champion -- who is tied for the league lead in homers and tops in on-base and slugging percentages -- might very well have been none of those. But he was noticed. It got him started toward The Show. Now, Bautista's ready to reciprocate.

After graduation from high school in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, he took night school college courses for a couple of semesters and worked out each morning at a local baseball academy.

"I tried to sign as an amateur free agent to get to the Minor Leagues," Bautista said.

Few teams gave him more than a cursory glance. A couple made offers, none worth enough to persuade him to drop out of school.

"If I hadn't made it, I probably would have finished school and done something in the business field," he said. "I've always had a good feel for math."

Five days before the start of his third semester, Bautista received a call from his former Little League coach. Oscar Perez worked for the Latin Athletes Educational Development Fund, which aids players good enough to continue their education.

"First, they have to be offered a scholarship to a college," Bautista said. "The fund does dual duty, trying to find the right kind of kid and finding the right college where he's needed." The fund supplements the scholarship.

Perez told him Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., needed an outfielder who could keep his grades up. Bautista could. During the 2000-01 seasons, he batted a combined .299 with team-highs of 22 home runs and 75 RBIs.

That got him noticed by the Pirates. He was their 20th-round pick in the 2000 MLB First-Year Player Draft. He signed May 19, 2001, two weeks after the end of Chipola's season, and on June 19 played third base on Opening Day for Pittsburgh's Class A Short-Season Williamsport Crosscutters. Three years later, Bautista made it to the Majors.

Now, it's his turn to help youngsters who can benefit from financial support the way he did. He's creating a foundation that will enable high school graduates from the Dominican Republic, go to college and play sports.

"I've always been looking forward to the opportunity of somehow giving back to the community in the Dominican Republic," Bautista said. "There are a lot of kids in my same situation that are good enough players and could pursue a career as student athletes. Hopefully we can open up some doors for their future so they can become contributing citizens for their community and society.

"Putting kids in the Minor Leagues is not an option. It's strictly to serve as a vehicle to place kids in certain schools. Whatever part of their scholarship is not covered, the foundation will try to supply the rest -- money for meals, air fares, maybe some books, computers."

Blue Jays manager John Farrell was effusive in his praise for Bautista, who is currently the leading vote-getter for the July 12 All-Star Game.

"Knowing Jose's past and that he was involved in a similar program, I think it's tremendous that he has the willingness and the want to step outside of himself and recognize he's in a position to help others," he said.

"I'm not saying players have to be philanthropists, but I think they need to be aware that because of the uniform that they wear, they're idols and people look up to them," Farrell said. "I can't understand how players will take the approach that, 'I don't want that.' Being a role model just happens to come with the job. Jose has really embraced that."

Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.