Philly's UYA project is generating excitement

Philly's UYA project is generating excitement

If everything goes according to plan, Major League Baseball will have three Urban Youth Academies up and running by this time next year.

On Sept. 22, the league announced plans to build the first multi-site Academy in Philadelphia. Within three or four months, construction is scheduled to begin on two separate facilities in the City of Brotherly Love, and with that, the Philadelphia Phillies MLB Urban Youth Academy will be open for business by the summer of 2011, joining similar MLB ventures in Compton, Calif., and Houston.

Rob Holiday's inbox is already filling up.

"A lot of the participants in our RBI program are where the Academy is coming, so they're getting excited and curious," said Holiday, who serves as assistant director of scouting for the Phillies and is helping to direct the Philly UYA project. "We've also received interest from numerous volunteers to help us."

MLB's Urban Youth Academies offer free, after-school baseball, softball and life lessons to kids in underserved communities year-round -- giving them an alternate route to help steer them down the right path, while enhancing the quality of sports in the area.

Those who want to take part in the Philly UYA must first be enrolled in the local Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, which consists of more than 8,000 kids. The Academy will eventually service thousands, but not everyone in RBI will be admitted.

So, before its launch, the Philly UYA will have to develop an application process.

"The intent is to give a lot of assistance to the participants in the Urban Youth Academy," Holiday said. "So, in order to give them the intense baseball instruction and educational support they need, we won't have the resources to fully service all participants. But we will attempt to service as many as we can."

The first phase of construction will be done at the Richie Ashburn Field Complex in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park, where the existing baseball field will be renovated and a second will spring up right next to it. The two will share batting cages, and each field will be equipped with bleacher seating for up to 500 fans, scoreboards, press boxes and dugouts.

Two softball fields, office space for tournament management and amenities such as concessions and a picnic area will also be built at the complex.

Then, four to six months after the opening of the Academy, the indoor portion is expected to be completed.

That will take place about three miles away at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center, where classrooms, computer labs and locker rooms will be renovated.

"All of the above is there now," said Holiday, who helped jump-start the Phillies' RBI program in 1989. "The goal is to make it better."

And expand.

A 10,000-square-foot turf field, complete with retractable batting cages and pitching mounds, will be added to the current rec center.

"It's a cold-weather facility," Holiday said, "and we want to make sure [the UYA members] train 12 months out of the year."

Down the road, Holiday talked about implementing satellite locations around the city that would offer some of the programs of the main facilities, and also a transportation system for those living further away.

The Philly Academy -- managed in collaboration with MLB, the Phillies and the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Department -- is expected to cost about $3 million to build. It will aspire to graduate 100 percent of the kids it serves, and attempt to model itself after the blueprint Academy in Compton, Calif.

Compton's Academy opened its doors in 2006, and today, it encompasses 20-plus acres of land and serves about 2,500 kids ages 7-17. Seventy-four of those who either played or trained at that Academy signed professional contracts, and hundreds of student-athletes have gone on to participate in collegiate baseball and softball programs since the Compton UYA began.

The Phillies have drafted a few players out of Compton's Academy, including first baseman Jonathan Singleton (2009, eighth round), outfielder Anthony Gose (2008, second round) and outfielder Jermaine Williams (2005, seventh round).

Now, Philly -- like Houston, which opened in April -- hopes to follow in the same footsteps.

"I've been out to the Compton Academy numerous times, and I've seen the great work that they do there, and we've been able to find some players for the Phillies from their Academy," Holiday said. "So, I'm hopeful the Academy here in Philadelphia will give more kids in Philly the opportunity to play in college -- and maybe the Majors."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Gonzo and 'The Show'. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.