A MIT Conference on Sports Analytics would seem an unusual setting to hear about youth development. But at a recent conference at the Sloan School of Business, newly installed MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was asked to comment on the best part of his nascent tenure at the helm of the Major Leagues. His response? Visiting the boys and girls of the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
The Commissioner's visit took place earlier this year -- one of his first stops after assuming the top role in baseball. Led on a highly interactive tour of the Academy by some of the young Scholar Athletes enrolled in the Academy's after school program, he was able to experience firsthand the impactful athletic, academic and health/wellness programming taking place in Fort DuPont.
As he toured the state-of-the-art baseball and education complex -- built by the Nationals in partnership with the City of Washington and other key community partners -- he learned about the Academy's origins, program design, and impact from the staff, volunteer tutors and mentors, coaches, and partners who help drive the Academy's mission forward.
That mission -- to use baseball and softball as vehicles to enhance the academic achievement, character development and physical fitness of youth living in DC neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River -- powerfully resounded with the Commissioner, who has identified promoting the game to youth in urban communities as the top priority of his administration.
That commitment was evidenced by a remarkable invitation the Commissioner later extended to Academy Scholar-Athlete Duane Dargin, a third grader at DC's Anne Beers elementary school who helped lead the Academy tour. In that role, young Duane made a particularly strong impression on the Commissioner - so much so that when Manfred was asked to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day at Nats Park, he deferred… and asked Duane to do the honors instead.
Duane was up to the challenge, and drilled one of the best first pitches in Nats history, from the top of the mound, no less! You can view the Opening Day clip here, and more on the visit to the Academy here.
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Stephen Neill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.