PHOENIX -- Where two months ago there was a landmark but ramshackle haven for kids, brightly colored and rigged-out rooms for games and media greeted visitors on Monday. What a month ago was a messy construction site now showcased a spotless cafeteria, a computer lab and a teen center whose doors opened on a verdant baseball field complete with its "Beige Monster," the walls of the main building rising an inviting 240 feet down the left-field line. What an hour ago was a barren wall was now covered by a beautiful mural of Chase Field's diamond.
Major League Baseball's commitment for its All-Star Games to leave a lasting footprint on host communities has left a crater-sized imprint in South Phoenix, through a $2 million renovation of the Boys & Girls Club of Metropolitan Phoenix. "There are 4,000 Boys & Girls Clubs around the country," Roxanne Spillett, national president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, told the gathering at Monday's unveiling, "and you are sitting or standing in one of the finest of them all."
The result of a partnership among MLB, the D-backs and Magical Builders -- a nonprofit focused on such rebuilding projects -- the magnet center serving 1,500-plus Phoenix youth received a high-profile, celebrity-studded introduction.But one thought connected the attendees: The klieg lights will fade, the speakers will be muted and the famous will depart -- but the wonderful facilities will remain to inspire the community's kids. The center was formally rededicated as "The MLB All-Star Arizona Diamondbacks Branch A Kieckhefer Family Legacy" in ceremonies featuring Commissioner Bud Selig, managing general partner Ken Kendrick and club president Derrick Hall of the D-backs; MLB executive vice president Joe Torre, Laurel Prieb; MLB's vice-president of Western Operations, and his wife, Wendy; Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn; Vera Clemente and Luis Gonzalez, Ambassador of the 82nd All-Star Game. "Our goal is to always leave a lasting impact. This project is our centerpiece for this All-Star Game," Selig said before leaving the dais with a request for all the kids who will be walking through the club's doors: "Use this as a place to dream, to realize anything is possible with effort and dedication." The Commissioner was poignantly reassured of that mission by Taylor Sturges, the club's chosen 2011 "Youth of the Year." "Unless you grow up in a community like mine," Sturges said, "you have no idea what a club like this means to us. It's our home away from home, and that's true for the hundreds and thousands of kids this club has served over the last 50 years. "When I found the Boys & Girls Club, I thought I had found shelter. But I didn't realize how much I really did gain. You feel comfortable coming here with questions and leaving with the answers you needed. I know in my heart that the youth of my community will be proud to engage in different programs in this state-of-the-art facility, which will continue to serve and held children just like me. Thank you for supporting and believing in kids like me." When Taylor first set foot in the place six years ago, she saw the same thing Kendrick did upon his introduction to the facility about five miles southwest of Chase Field. They both saw something dramatically different on Monday. "This is a tremendous success, and a great day to be an Arizona Diamondback and a part of the Boys & Girls Clubs," said Kendrick, who pointed out that the Club remains the same spiritually and had only changed "in a physical way." Those changes were dramatically revealed to dozens of gathered kids who had been held in suspense until Gonzalez and Gwynn threw open the doors. Those wide-eyes, dropped-jaws and "Oh, my God, I can't believe this is the same place" comments won't soon fade either. "When I walked in today, I was amazed," Sturges said. "This place looks like a million bucks. OK -- maybe two million." "This is a game-changer -- and that's really what the All-Star Game does," Hall said. "That's where it comes into play, the impact it can have on a community -- economically, $67 million worth, when the region needs it the most." Jon Frank of Magical Builders commended local benefactors for contributing about $1.5 million of the funds "at a time this area has been as hard hit by the economy as any other." The rest of the financing came from MLB's aptly categorized Legacy Dollars -- revenue from the Monday Gatorade Workout Day earmarked to benefit the hosting community. "This indeed is a legacy -- for the Commissioner and for MLB and for the Arizona Diamondbacks," Hall said. "I could't be more proud of what we see here today, a safe haven for our future leaders to come and enjoy every day." All told, MLB and the D-backs are donating more than $5 million of the proceeds to a variety of local and national charities, also including Stand Up To Cancer, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the Arizona State Veteran Home and the Foundation for Blind Children. Since 1997, more than $45 million has been donated to non-profit organizations from Gatorade All-Star Workout Day proceeds. In that long and meritorious list, the Boys & Girls Clubs have always been closest to the heart of Selig. "One of the great pleasures for me in the past 18 years," the Commissioner said, reflecting on his tenure, "has been the association with the Boys & Girls Clubs. It has been great for us, and a privilege." That was a mutual sentiment, also expressed by Spillett, who recalled a long-ago conversation with Selig "as we were about to embark on this journey together." "I want to do good things for kids," Spillett recounted the Commissioner's pledge. "I want kids to dream and to vow to be stronger. And everywhere, I want a bat and a ball in the hands of every boy and girl who wants them." "I'll never forget your words," Spillett was saying now, turning to Selig. "It's always on my mind. Over the past 15 years, MLB has done so much for the Boys & Girls Clubs' movement. We couldn't be more grateful. "And at this club," she added, nodding her head toward the beautiful diamond waiting just on the other side of the doors, "we're going to make sure there is a bat and a ball in every hand that wants them. MLB -- we love you."