MLB unveils Urban Youth Academy

MLB unveils Urban Youth Academy

COMPTON, Calif. -- After the marching bands and the speeches, the accolades and the lemonades, Commissioner Bud Selig proclaimed that Tuesday was "a big day" for Major League Baseball in this community just south of the City of Angels.

Under a cloudless sky, Selig used oversized wooden scissors to cut a red ribbon that was stretched baseline-to-baseline across the main field of the first U.S.-based Urban Youth Academy, now nestled on 10 acres behind Compton Community College.

"This is the first of what I hope is a series of academies all over America," Selig said. "So this is a very big day for us, a very, very good day. I really do think things like this will change the history of our sport. There's a lot of days when being the Commissioner is not a joyride. But this indeed is a great day to be the Commissioner of baseball."

The list of dignitaries attending the noon PT event was long and distinguished. Aside from Selig, Dodgers chairman Frank McCourt, Angels owner Arte Moreno, Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Joe Morgan, and of course, Jimmie Lee Solomon, the MLB executive who spearheaded the project, were all front and center.

Other former Major Leaguers, many of whom grew up on that strip of land that runs south of downtown Los Angeles, mingled among the crowd of about 500: Reggie Smith and Ken Landreaux. Bill Russell and Sweet Lou Johnson. Enos Cabell and George Hinshaw. Bobby Castillo and Hubie Brooks. Just to name a few.

Astros general manager Tim Purpura, who cut his teeth in the Angels organization, made the excursion from Houston's Spring Training base in Florida. The Astros and Cabell, who grew up near Compton and now works in the Houston organization, donated $70,000 for batting cages that will be named in honor of Cabell's father, Enos Sr. Rockies chairman Charlie Monfort was there, as was John Young, the founder of RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities).

Young's group, which began the redemption of baseball in urban L.A. long before the academy was the gleam in anyone's eye, announced that it would stage its 14th annual RBI World Series this August on the four fields that were created out of hardscrabble at the cost of $3 million.

Moreno, who is entering his fourth season owning L.A.'s American League baseball team, donated $500,000 in the name of the Angels over the next five years toward college scholarships for the thousands of kids who are expected to use the facility -- the main field, the auxiliary field, a girls' softball field and a youth field.

"A big part of what we're looking at that revolves around baseball and softball at the academy is education," Moreno said. "The education component is so important to what happens here. We want to give these young people the opportunity not only to finish high school, but to move on to the next level, to junior college at Compton, or to one of the major universities."

Completion of this academy was a six-year endeavor that began as a nationwide search for a suitable site and later turned into a major land acquisition, permitting and construction project. When the daily routine begins in earnest this coming June, 125 kids a day are going to be given instruction from professional level coaches on how to play the game.

They will have their own clubhouses and training facilities and will have access to the college's classrooms, computer rooms, locker rooms and refreshment stands.

MLB studied other locales as home to its first U.S. academy, but Compton, in the cradle of rich baseball history, seemed to be the applicable place.

"This is a perfect area for it," Selig said. "It's an area that needed something like this. It's an area where we need to have representation. You have to pick the right place to start."

U.S. Representative Juanita Melinda McDonald (D-Calif.), whose district includes Compton, queried Solomon about MLB putting a satellite facility at the college. But Solomon said after visiting the site that he was sold on it by McDonald.

"I came, I saw and I was conquered," Solomon said.

McDonald added on Tuesday that the day's invocation felt like "I have finished giving birth to my baby."

"We turned an ambitious dream into a state of the art reality that we are celebrating here today," said Solomon, who was promoted by MLB to the position of executive vice president of baseball operations while the project was running its course. "This facility is a prototype of what we envision and strongly believe to be an exciting catalyst for positive change among the youth of urban America."

Next up is Washington, D.C. As part of the stadium package under negotiation with the City Council for the Nationals, MLB has agreed to fund a $3.5 million inner city academy in the nation's capital.

Winfield, who is a Padres vice president and has been in the forefront of minority initiatives for the ballclub in San Diego, said that baseball had shown him the right way to move forward into his adult life and that he hoped the academy would provide the same advantages to others.

Aside from baseball on the field, the academy will offer free seminars in other industry jobs: umpiring, athletic field and turf development, sports and broadcast journalism, public relations and statistics and sports medical training.

"I did it the right way," said Winfield, who also starred in football and basketball and could have played professionally in the other two sports. "I let them teach me, show me. And I took it in. And now MLB has created this academy to show young people that they have the same opportunities in front of them, whether it's on the field, whether it's in the front office, whether it's in ancillary jobs. There's a lot of competition out there, but we think baseball is still the best way."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com national correspondent Ben Platt contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.