The 2012 All-Star Game's impact on the community was felt again Saturday afternoon, when the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City unveiled its newly renovated unit in Independence, made possible by the organization Magical Builders and donations from Major League Baseball, the Royals and many others.
Before the renovations, the room was an open space so cluttered that it was difficult to walk around in it. Now, the walls are painted bright blue and green. There's a mural of Royals mascot Sluggerrr on the wall. Offices and meeting rooms are clean and new, with the keys still in the doors. When the facility reopens in August, there will be TVs, computers and other forms of technology to help kids with their education.
"If you hadn't been here before, you wouldn't know any different," said Toby Cook, the Royals' vice president of community affairs and publicity. "If you had been in here before and they brought you in blindfolded and they took the blindfold off, you wouldn't know that somebody drove you to Leslie Street in Independence."
Dave Smith, the president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City, said that the renovations will double attendance and allow the club to serve an additional 140 kids per day.
A new facility needs a new name. Smith announced that the unit would be officially renamed from the Leslie Unit to the Independence Unit, with a nod of approval from Independence's mayor.
The renovated facility got the endorsement of those it was renovated for: the kids. As they were led into the building, kids let out "oos" and "ahs," as well as an audible "this is cool!"
As with other community improvements made possible by the All-Star Game's arrival in Kansas City this weekend, the delegation of Royals legend George Brett, MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan, Royals owner David Glass and Royals president Dan Glass was in attendance, and the group gave its thoughts on the relationship between the Royals and the Boys & Girls Club.
"That is the fun part about running the team -- the charitable arm of it and the difference you can make out in the community," said Dan Glass. "When I look around this facility, it's probably been two or three years since I've been here. You wouldn't even notice it as being the same place."
"Major League Baseball, David Glass -- money well-spent on this facility," Brett said. "I grew up and I was very fortunate. I had three older brothers. I was in a position much like a lot of these kids that come here: Both my parents worked. They'd go to work at 7:30 every day, come home at 5:00. But I had three brothers to kind of keep an eye on me. That's what this place is for, to keep an eye on kids, get them going in the right direction.
"There's nothing wrong with having a mentor. There's nothing wrong with having role models in your life. For those of you -- the counselors, the teachers who work here -- you've got a beautiful facility. Some day you can make a difference in these kids' lives. I wish you all the best luck in the world.
"It's an honor for me to be named ambassador and go around and help Major League Baseball and David and Dan Glass and the Royals' organization hand out money to many needy charities. But this takes the cake because I was a kid once, too, and I have three of my own."
Also in attendance were Vera Clemente, widow of Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente and MLB goodwill ambassador, and son Luis Clemente. Three Minor League players were also on hand, in town for Sunday's SiriusXM Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium: Royals prospect Jake Odorizzi, Pirates prospect Gerrit Cole and Rockies prospect Nolan Arenado.
And who better to perfectly illustrate the meaning of the renovated facility than a young person? Akimmy Wheeler, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America Missouri Youth of the Year, gave a heartfelt thanks to those who made Saturday possible.
"We send a gracious 'thank you' to Major League Baseball, the Royals, Lowes, JE Dunn Construction Company and countless others that have helped make this dream a reality," Wheeler said. "Whether you know it or not, you have helped to construct a new beginning, create a safe, energetic and positive environment for youth to indulge in educational activities and possible careers, and to graduate on time with post-secondary plans. We thank you guys. I wish I could create a better word than 'thank you,' but there is no way to explain how you guys have helped us, so we thank you."
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.