There are many alternate paths to the Major Leagues. The Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., has always been a pioneer in stressing that message to the community, providing free academic tutoring and baseball instruction for kids, as well as vocational clinics in groundskeeping and umpiring for adults.
Recently, Major League Baseball's flagship academy added a seminar in another focus to the many programs on the menu: broadcasting. Thanks to cooperation with FOX Sports West, Academy kids were treated to seven weekly sessions with broadcast professionals.
Some of the presenters -- like FOX Sports reporter Rahshaun Haylock and Clippers broadcaster Kyle Montgomery -- were visible on-air talent who some of the kids may have seen before. Others were producers and graphic designers -- the people who make broadcasts work without getting much credit.
Kim Mason, who attended six of the sessions with her son Keone Roberts, a student at St. John Bosco High School, said the entire experience was eye-opening for kids on the verge of adulthood.
"I'm a former teacher, and I thought the opportunity for the kids to meet the representatives from FOX Sports was invaluable," Mason said. "I could just tell that the kids were looking at them, thinking, 'Gosh, they're really real.' ...I think most young people are trying to be in front of the camera or on the stage, so to speak. But for my child in particular, who's interested in athletics and in playing sports, I want him to see that nobody plays sports forever. At some point, you've got to choose a backup plan just in case you get injured or for when you retire. It's good for them to understand that, yes, you can be on the field and you can be in front of the camera, but there are other options as well."
Each of the presenters, week by week, interacted with the kids at the academy, telling the students what it's like to perform their job, and also telling them about their journey into the working world. Some of the journalists grew up in inner-city Los Angeles, making their stories even more relatable.
Mason said that over time, some common threads emerged among the presenters. Each of them stressed originality and being yourself, a key message for kids who often want to be part of the crowd. And they spoke about the singularity of focus it took for them to find fulfillment in their careers.
"They talked about having goals and dreams," Mason said. "And not just about having them, but what it takes to fulfill those goals and dreams -- the effort, the time, the work ethic required.
"And another thing they talked about was networking and making connections. I think a couple of them actually said that it's not just about what you know, it's about who you know. I happen to be an advocate of thinking that it's what you know, but they definitely emphasized that they got their jobs and their promotions by not only being prepared and knowing something, but also by the connections they had made."
The seven-week program was the Compton academy's first foray into broadcast work, but the facility in New Orleans has already turned the idea into a thriving project. The New Orleans academy has a junior broadcast club that allows young adults to interview local players and edit their interviews. Last year, one of the academy kids got to guest-call an at-bat on MLB Network at the Urban Invitational.
The Compton academy's broadcast program was formed in cooperation with FOX Sports West, which has also hosted instructional sessions at a local high school. Some of these kids may wind up working at FOX some day, but for now, the hope was just to plant the idea of journalism in their minds.
"Our goal in volunteering at the Urban Youth Academy this fall was really to introduce these teens to the various facets of the television industry -- both in-front-of and behind the camera," said Nick Davis, the executive producer of FOX Sports West/Prime Ticket. "The informal classroom setting allowed our staff to speak with the students directly, answer their questions and walk them through career various paths."
The kids were encouraged to interview each other and present each other's life story to the class, and they were given the opportunity to ask questions at some point in each presentation. McKenzie Wilson, a sophomore at St. Joseph High School, said she was impressed by the depth of the program.
Wilson, who has already committed to play softball at the University of California-Riverside, said that because of the academy program, she wants to consider a major in communications.
"I thought it was really interesting how they had a new person each week," she said. "The new person had a totally different job than the last person. One job would be behind the scenes, or one person would be writing a script for another person. Somebody else would come in and show us their actual interviews. They would be the person interviewing the players after the game, and I thought that was really cool."
Another student, senior Christopher Neri of Mayfair High School, said the academy has made a great impact on his life. Neri estimated that he's at the academy six times a week during the summer, but because of advanced placement courses, he's only there twice a week during the school year.
Still, when the opportunity came around to sign up for the broadcast program, he was all in.
"Signing up, I was hoping to learn something for my future, and that's exactly what I got," said Neri, who plans to major in psychology. "We got great information from the workers at FOX. It really changed my mind. I just went there because I love sports, and not because of the career path. But as I continued going to the classes, I started thinking that now I have a backup plan. Now I have another path."
And that's not all he has from the experience. Neri said that not only did he learn about a way to stay close to sports, he was able to glean something that he'd rarely seen from other professions.
"I saw how much they enjoyed their work. I saw how it influenced them," he said. "They seem to enjoy it every day, going to work. It made me realize, 'that's what I want to do. I want to go to work and enjoy every day.' And not only do they make themselves happy, but they make the audience happy too."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.