Urban Youth Academy channels Jackie's spirit

Urban Youth Academy channels Jackie's spirit

Urban Youth Academy channels Jackie's spirit
In April 1947, Jackie Robinson not only broke the color barrier and integrated African-Americans into Major League Baseball, he became a symbol and source of hope for those less fortunate.

By helping break down social boundaries, Robinson made an impact on people's lives inside the classroom and on the field. His story is much more than just baseball.

So is Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy, which was first created in Compton, Calif., in 2006 and now has multiple locations across the United States, geared towards impacting underprivileged kids in the same ways that Robinson was able to.

Free instruction is provided at the state-of-the-art facility which is equipped with more than just a weight room and batting cages -- it has mentors, like former Major Leaguer Darrell Miller and Blue Jays Triple-A prospect Anthony Gose.

"Our goal and objective is to give kids a chance to play baseball at the highest possible level and be Major League contributors to our society by offering educational programs," said Miller, Vice President of MLB's Youth and Facility Development and Director of the UYA in Compton. "We will build these academies in the inner cities so that we can help those that are less fortunate and teach the kids to be better people.

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"We basically focus on the fundamentals. Not only the fundamentals of baseball, but the fundamentals of life."

Gose, a highly-regarded young talent, is a poster boy for the success the program has had. He was introduced to the UYA around the same time it opened by a friend named Reggie Williams, a 2007 fourth-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins.

Gose immediately felt a connection.

"It helped out a lot, I was able to go there and work out every day," Gose said. "Being around guys like Darrell Miller, Doug Takaragawa, Johnny Washington and a really close person who has a special place in my heart, Carl Nichols. Being around them everyday helped me stay straight with school and stay out of trouble."

He was a regular at the UYA before he got drafted in the second round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft by the Phillies and still frequents the facility today. What the Academy did for Gose as a kid, he now does for kids at the Academy.

"It's important to the kids coming up," Gose said. "I had the opportunity to be around guys that were there before me and went through the Draft, pro ball and college and I looked up to those guys. It's good for you to go because you got kids that look up to you and that want to be able to put a name on a face. You share your story and how it feels to be able to go through the process and what it's like to be there [professional baseball]."

Gose, 21, says he's fortunate to have both his parents involved in his upbringing -- parents he's extremely close with, just as he is with his brother and sister. They showed him the ropes and taught him how to play the game as a youngster growing up in California.

He looked up to his father so much so that Gose wanted to play the same sport he played, football, but didn't because he was never big enough. Gose also ran track, but said that wasn't much of an option because he didn't have "world-class speed," despite swiping 70 bases at Double-A New Hampshire in 2011.

The parallels to Robinson, who was a league leader in stolen bases twice during his career, don't end there.

"What we found out about Anthony very quickly is that he's a man of character," Miller said. "He has a tremendous amount of work ethic -- it's second to none to anyone that I've seen. That's when I knew he was going to be successful, because he's the type of person that if you said, 'This is what you need to work on to get better,' he would be doing it and be doing it all by himself.

"He's a real competitor and he doesn't like to lose. But he's not afraid of failure, either. He's a unique person, a class person. He's the kind of guy you want to marry your daughter, quite frankly."

For Gose, Robinson's story is a true inspiration.

"He impacted a lot of people in a very special way for what he did and what he went through and what he had to overcome to get the game to where it is now," Gose said.

Baseball has evolved from a game that once predominantly consisted of white Americans. Thanks to Robinson, it's become an international game that is composed of all different colors and races. But as far as African-American representation goes, statistics show an impediment in progress.

African-Americans are still a minority in the Major Leagues, though. It's programs like the UYA that can help boost the number of African-American children and teenagers that are playing baseball, but it won't be easy. Miller says one major problem is a lack of scholarships available. That's concerning to Miller, who says that nearly 70 percent of the players in America who make it to the Majors are coming from collegiate programs.

"I've seen and talked to a lot of people lately who were very discouraged of baseball because of the work stoppages," Miller said. "We're very fortunate to have a commissioner that has done a great job at making baseball healthy again. I think in 15, 20 years, we'll see more underserved kids in college baseball and professional baseball.

"We'll see an uptick [in African-American representation] in baseball again but it will take a while. When you add all that stuff up, it has become a perfect storm. We've lost a generation of baseball players."

Miller will continue his efforts through the UYA and knows progress is being made courtesy of the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer.

"For everyone, especially kids of color at the Academy, he'll [Jackie Robinson] always be a source of inspiration," Miller said. "From a baseball perspective, I think our kids are starting to understand and remember and take baseball serious because of Jackie Robinson."

Like Robinson, Gose is a role model as well. He helps kids at UYA stay out of trouble by teaching the fundamentals of baseball -- and life -- at the Compton facility. In the near future, he'll be offering his assistance to the Blue Jays on the diamond, too. He may get the opportunity to do both in the same city.

"I had some conversations with some people up in Toronto last year," Miller said. "We're hoping to take the concept international. Canada is definitely a target. The first one [UYA] we are building in a cold area is Philadelphia, so we will figure out how that model works and how to expand it into other places like Toronto."

Gose is an ideal person to help integrate the initiative internationally, more than six decades after Robinson was able to integrate the game racially.

"It's hard to explain how special a man he was and what he did for the game and how he changed not only the lives of baseball, but lives around the country and, to some degree, around the world," Gose said of Robinson.

Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.