ARLINGTON -- The A-list came out on a cold and blustery January afternoon for the official ground-breaking ceremonies of the Texas Rangers Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy being built in West Dallas.
Rangers players Cole Hamels and Prince Fielder, general manager Jon Daniels, former players Darren Oliver and Homer Bush, Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw and Major League Baseball executives Tony Reagins and Darrell Miller were among those in attendance at an academy that is expected to be fully operational this summer.
Kershaw, who is from Dallas, partnered with the Rangers, MLB and the Players Association to join together with Mercy Street, a West Dallas community organization, to finance the academy. Both Hamels and Fielder are making significant contributions to the project.
"I was very fortunate [growing up] to have a community center that had four or five fields that somebody put together," Hamels said. "This is how you play the game of baseball. It's not as easy as basketball or soccer. With baseball, you have to have fields. To be a part of this is extra special."
The 17-acre academy is located at the intersection of Biggers and Hampton, close to Pinkston High School and the community YMCA. The complex will be a significant enlargement of the Johnny Oates Youth Ballpark that opened in 1999.
"You want kids to have a chance to play on nice fields," Fielder said. "I played on some nice fields and some not so nice. It's easy to be motivated when you play on a nice field."
The Rangers started working toward this in 2010, when West Dallas was chosen for the site.
"They are the reason we are here," said Trey Hill, executive director of Mercy Street. "At Mercy Street, we are driven by our deep love for the community of West Dallas. This is going to be incredibly special and beneficial to the community of West Dallas. It's a place where the families of West Dallas can get together and enjoy the very best."
The new facility will consist of five fields, including an enhancement of the existing Field of Dreams High School field and an Academy building. Clayton Kershaw Field, the second baseball field, and the T-ball field are expected to be finished in March so that Rangers Mercy Street RBI programming can continue and Mercy Street can hold other games.
Dallas ISD High Schools will continue to use the existing Mercy Street Field of Dreams. The buildings and other elements for the area south of Bickers will be completed by the end of May. The Johnny Oates Field will be rebuilt as a professional field able to hold 750 spectators. The indoor building will feature a full turf professional-sized infield, six batting/pitching cages, classrooms and a weight-and-nutrition room.
"One of the things that make the Rangers unique as an organization, and the Foundation, is that myself, most of the players, manager Jeff Banister, our owners and executives, this is home to us," Daniels said. "This is where we raise our children and are a part of the community. Giving back has extra meaning for us."
The West Dallas facility is the ninth academy announced in the United States. The Compton Academy was the first to open, followed by Houston, New Orleans, Cincinnati and Philadelphia. The Nationals have their own in Washington, and there are plans to build in San Francisco and Kansas City.
Reagins is MLB's senior vice president for youth programs. He was the Angels general manager from 2008-11.
"The Texas Rangers are one of the reasons why I am here and not in Anaheim," Reagins joked as he spoke about the latest addition to MLB's academies.
"A lot of work and a lot of effort has gone into this," Reagins said. "We'd like to welcome the Texas Rangers and Mercy Street to our roster of youth academies in what we feel is a great project that means a lot to a lot of people."