Manfred, Minaya, A-Rod help unveil plans for new ballfields in Bronx
By Nick Suss
NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball and the state of New York joined together Wednesday to push youth baseball into the next generation.
Commissioner Rob Manfred, Omar Minaya of the Major League Baseball Players Association and Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez visited Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx. They were joined by politicians such as Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and New York State commissioner of parks and recreation Rose Harvey to announce plans to renovate and build up baseball's presence at the park named for one of the game's most legendary players. Major League Baseball will donate $4 million to build a new Urban Youth Academy, also named for Clemente, and the New York State government will add $5 million to help build baseball and softball fields at the park.
"The project here at Roberto Clemente State Park combined three great things for us, Manfred said. "First, it gave us an opportunity to honor the history of baseball. The facility will be in a park named for one of the all-time greats, Roberto Clemente. [Roberto Jr.,] thank you for being here today. Secondly, it gives us an MLB Academy in one of America's great cities. We have two franchises here, Major League Baseball is located here, and it's only fitting that we have an MLB Academy here in New York. Third, this academy will be run by a great provider, Harlem RBI. It has a great track record, not only of developing players, but of developing people, more importantly."
Rodriguez donated $750,000 to the building efforts. In exchange for his philanthropic spirit, the newly built multipurpose field will be named Alex Rodriguez Field.
Dozens of children were on hand for the announcement, practicing the fundamentals of the game under the guidance of coaches, many of whom were from Harlem RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), the youth baseball program that plans to bring approximately 1,500 players to the park, as well as manage the park's existing players. Addressing the youngsters, Rodriguez explained why works such as these are so vital not just to baseball, but to society as a whole.
"I was one of you kids many years ago," Rodriguez said. "I learned how to play baseball on a community field just like this at the Boys & Girls Club in Miami. Hopefully, this project provides many, many more baseball fans in the future, and it will help you kids dream very big."
Rodriguez further explained that his experience at the Boys & Girls Club was about more than just baseball. It was there that he learned about teamwork, but it was also there that he learned to do homework. The veteran ballplayer even went as far as to say that he viewed the Boys & Girls Club as a third parent thanks to the lessons he learned there.
Diaz sees the future of the Roberto Clemente Urban Youth Academy in the same light. A Bronx native and a lifetime Yankees fan, Diaz spoke of the role baseball has had in his life in a monologue that sounded as if it were straight out of "Field of Dreams," focusing on the lessons the game teaches on and off the field.
"Baseball is about memories," Diaz said. "I remember my brother and I always having that hot dog afterwards that Papi would buy. I remember being able to talk about the game at home with Mami, who sometimes couldn't make it. I remember little Davey and Joseph, those that played ball with us who every now and then I get to see around the neighborhood.
"The lessons of not just baseball, of how to swing the bat and throw the ball, but lessons of teamwork, lessons of discipline, lessons that we take with us as professionals in life. This is what we're investing in here."
Clemente's son, Roberto Clemente Jr., echoed a similar sentiment as to the vitality of parks such as this. He said that in the 42 years he's been coming to the park, he's been told by countless people that access to the park played a hand in saving their lives. Clemente Jr. said that the lessons kids will learn about helping others through sports will be the most important things afforded to them by this investment.
But perhaps it was Harvey who explained the park's purpose the best simply by quoting Clemente himself.
"Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in the world," she said, "then you are wasting your time if you don't make that difference."
Nick Suss is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.