The Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., opened up its doors for its first Community Day on Sunday, an event that drew two Hall of Famers and one of the game's best-ever managers.
All-time greats Frank Robinson, Rod Carew and Tony La Russa were on hand Sunday to greet the public and to celebrate the mission of the Urban Youth Academy, which is no less than to transform the next generation of society and inner-city communities across America one city at a time.
Robinson, Major League Baseball's vice president of baseball development, wanted to let the community know that the facility in Compton belongs to them. It may be run by Major League Baseball, he said, but the point of the academy is to transform the lives of the people who live around it.
"It gives the young people in this community someplace to go, someplace to play baseball and work on their skills," he said. "It just gets them off the streets. That's the main thing. It gives them the opportunity to understand that there is someone willing to help them and will do things to help them be better citizens. Also to improve their academics, if that's the case. It's not just baseball here."
The Urban Youth Academy concept has flourished in Compton so much that facilities are beginning to crop up all over the country. There are also MLB-sanctioned academies in Puerto Rico, Houston and New Orleans, and there are new facilities being built in both Philadelphia and South Florida.
MLB announced in January that it will build another Urban Youth Academy in Cincinnati, expanding to the Midwest for the first time. Darrell Miller, MLB's vice president of youth and facility development, spoke eloquently to the crowd Sunday about how much things have already changed.
More than 400 academy attendees have gone on to scholarships for baseball and softball, he said, and 180 kids have gone on to sign pro contracts. But the new academy motto is simple and speaks to a different kind of success: "You pick up a baseball or a softball, you pick up a book."
"That's how we're going to change our status in America," said Miller. "It's really important the educational concepts and the educational support that we're starting to generate here at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy. I urge every single person to take advantage of that support. ... Our goal is to make sure that you have a chance, to make sure that baseball and life works for you and this community. We're going to do everything possible to make sure that path works for you."
Carew, a seven-time batting champion and a member of baseball's exclusive 3,000-hit club, spent some time Sunday speaking to the crowd and hammering home the same point.
"Baseball has been great to a lot of us that are out here," said Carew, who stands 23rd on the all-time hit list. "Martin Luther King once said, 'A mind is a terrible thing to waste,' and that's what we're trying to develop in a lot of the young people that attend this academy. Not all of them are going to be great baseball players, but if we can teach them some life skills and have them go out into the world and make this community and make this country a better place, that's what we're trying to do."
La Russa, a four-time Manager of the Year and a three-time World Series champion, retired before the 2012 season and is still getting used to life after baseball. But he said that after the first time he visited the Urban Youth Academy, he couldn't wait to call people and tell them about it.
It's a unique development, he said, to see the sport so intertwined with the local community. La Russa said that progress is already evident and that it should be self-sustaining over time.
"The thing that I see is there's a real good momentum, because the ones that are working so hard are seeing some real results," said La Russa. "Kids are coming out of this program, and not just players. Citizens. Scholars. I'm really encouraged. I guess they're up to eight academies that MLB's going to be involved with in the country? I hope soon it's 18 and 80 or whatever. It's wonderful, really."
Robinson, one of the game's true giants, is the only player in history to win the Most Valuable Player in both the American and National League. He won the Triple Crown in 1966 and hit 586 homers in his career before going on to become the league's first African-American manager.
Now, though, Robinson can sense that he's changing the future. One success at a time, he hopes that the Urban Youth Academy is making an imprint in the Compton community and across America.
"Word spreads, and that's what we're trying to do with Community Day," he said. "We want the kids of this community to know that this facility is here for them. No one else. We're here.
"We have a staff here to work with them, do whatever we can, to put as many hours in as we have to with them. If they're willing to do the work, we're willing to help them."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. Ben Platt contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.