Manfred enjoys visit to Nats' youth academy

New Commissioner tours facility, interacts with students

Manfred enjoys visit to Nats' youth academy

WASHINGTON -- Rob Manfred made it abundantly clear, even before he formally became the 10th Commissioner in baseball history, that he was committed to strengthening the connection between youth and the national pastime. And he translated those words into action Wednesday when he visited the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.

Manfred toured the academy, which opened last year, and interacted with the students who are served by the gleaming new facility just a few miles from Nationals Park.

"The visit here is really important to me," Manfred said. "I hope to increase, during my time as Commissioner, the number of kids who play the game and are interested in our game. And I'll tell you that a program like this is an example of Major League Baseball and one of its clubs at its best. It's unbelievable.

"The goals of participation and diversity are so important to our game."

This was scheduled to be Manfred's first public appearance after succeeding Bud Selig on Jan. 25, underlining how passionate Manfred is on the subject, but it had to be postponed a week because of snow. And Manfred was overwhelmed by the reality of something he's previously only seen in pictures.

"Seeing it in person makes you appreciate the scope of it, the quality of the facility, how appealing the fields are," Manfred said. "The single most important thing to growing the game is getting kids playing. And there are parts of our cities, in particular, where there are not great opportunities to play baseball. This will pay off with future generations."

The Nationals' academy is one of several across the country.

At the first stop of the tour, Manfred was introduced to DeAndre Walker, who was raised in the neighborhood, attended school across the street at John Philip Sousa Junior High and remembers when the site was a rock-strewn football field.

"I wish I had a place like this when I was growing up," Walker told the Commissioner. "This academy creates so much opportunity for these kids. It's a place to come and feel safe."

Manfred also was shown classrooms. Boys and girls come to the academy after school and are given a free meal, followed by an hour of baseball or softball and an hour of study hall. After that are enrichment activities -- yoga and gardening are two -- and then they have a snack before going home.

The Commissioner was shown the kitchen before getting an overview of the artificial turf fields that surround the building and the indoor cages. Manfred posed for pictures with the students and handed out official Major League baseballs, telling the students that having his signature on the balls is "one of the coolest parts of my job."

Manfred repeatedly praised the leadership of the Lerner family's ownership of the Nationals, and he noted that both the Nats and the Baltimore Orioles have been able to thrive despite being so close to each other.

"I think both teams have done a great job of being competitive and maintaining their fan base," Manfred said.

Given Manfred's commitment to getting and keeping the younger generation interested in baseball, one reporter wondered about the possibility of scheduling World Series and postseason games so they didn't end after so many kids' bedtimes.

"Start times are an issue with young people," Manfred said. "We try to pay attention to that. It has to be balanced against the needs of our broadcast partners that are part of the engine that makes the game run. It is an issue. It's something we think about all the time. And the best I can tell you on that one is more to come."

Outside, in the chilled winter air, came the unmistakable sound of a bat meeting a ball.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.