It was Feb. 28, 2006, when MLB held the grand opening of its first Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., thus offering free year-round baseball and life lessons and opening a new world of opportunities for urban youth. While recently celebrating the five-year anniversary of that facility, MLB executive vice president of baseball development Jimmie Lee Solomon couldn't help but smile.
"When I look over and I see places where there were abandoned cars and graffiti and you saw junk piled up, now I see a $100 million development," said Solomon, who's carrying out Commissioner Bud Selig's goal to promote baseball in urban communities.
"It makes me really feel like we did the right thing and built it in the right place."
Since that date in late February five years ago, MLB has opened a similar facility in Houston, announced plans to construct others in Philadelphia and South Florida, taken control of a similar establishment in Puerto Rico, and is in talks with six cities for new UYAs.
Over 100 players who trained at the Compton UYA have been taken in the First-Year Player Draft -- including 25 in 2010. Another 150 have gone on to receive college scholarships for baseball and softball, and countless more have been able to use the game as an alternative avenue in the tough communities where they grow up.
"I'm most proud of the fact that these kids are getting an opportunity to go to college," Solomon said. "And then there are a lot of kids who are getting an opportunity just to better themselves and have a place to go."
You don't need to be a baseball or softball player to have that.
There are umpire camps; clinics for field-and-maintenance training, scouting and aspiring statisticians; coaching seminars; and classes for would-be broadcasters, sports-information directors and front-office executives.
All for free, all year-round.
The Compton Academy has seen the likes of Aaron Hicks (Twins), Anthony Gose (Blue Jays), Jonathan Singleton (Phillies) and several other top prospects come through the facility.
In fact, when Hicks was taken as the No. 14 overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, he chose to sign his first pro contract right there.
"That was the place I worked out," he said. "It was a place where I can go work out and get the coaching that I needed to get that extra edge."
With the launch of the UYAs, MLB began a yearly Urban Invitational that helps spotlight Historically Black Colleges and Universities, giving them a platform to be seen on MLB Network. It also sprouted the Breakthrough Series and several other showcases attended by the MLB Scouting Bureau, where some of the best high school players from the area -- several of whom train yearly at the Academy -- can be seen by top-tier scouts.
Soon, the Houston Academy will implement a lot of those ventures -- it already has on several occasions -- and the goal is to someday have an Academy in every Major League city.
"I think that's something that could be achieved," Solomon said. "If you look at the success we've had now, in five years of operation ... I think that, yeah, I think that could happen."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less