WASHINGTON, DC -- Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent C. Gray threw out the first pitch before the D.C. Grays and the Baltimore Redbirds squared off in Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League action Monday night at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
The Academy, which cost $18 million to build, includes three playing fields -- Little League baseball, full-size baseball and softball -- indoor batting cages, seven classrooms, a teaching kitchen and community event space. It officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony March 29 before the Nationals took batting practice.
The facility is located on a nine-acre plot in Fort Dupont Park and provides after-school and summer programs for boys and girls in the city's 7th and 8th Wards, which are collectively home to some of the nation's worst child poverty, unemployment and high school graduation rates.
"I'm glad that you all are here to play in this wonderful facility," Gray said while addressing players and fans before the game. "We're excited about what we have."
When the Nationals moved to Washington, D.C., in 2005, the team, Major League Baseball and the city government committed to building a youth baseball facility to benefit youth residents. The National Park Service officially transferred the land for the facility to the city in 2010, and construction began roughly a year later. In October 2013, programming started for the first class of scholar-athletes before the academy began baseball-related activities in March of this year.
The Grays, a team that gives college players the opportunity to hone and develop their skills during the summer months while playing in the Cal Ripken League, launched their partnership with the academy earlier this month and opened their 2014 season Wednesday against the Alexandria Aces.
During the spring, the facility served as the home for Sousa Middle School while also hosting practices and games for Anacostia and Gonzaga High Schools. Members of both high school teams also assisted as mentors for the third-grade and fourth-grade children participating in the after-school programs.
Gray was a standout baseball player for Dunbar High School in his youth and hit over .500 during his junior and senior seasons. And while both the White Sox and Dodgers were scouting him, Gray opted to forgo his chance to play professionally in order to attend George Washington University, where he ultimately earned a bachelor's degree in psychology.
Gray threw three pregame pitches to Grays outfielder Desmond Stegall, who plays for Grambling State University.
"What we're really trying to do is restore baseball at the youth level here in the District of Columbia," Gray said during his address. "A lot of you guys will probably go on to great careers beyond where you are now, but I hope you'll find a way to reach back to young people [and] let them know that baseball is a great sport."
Daniel Popper is an associate reporter for MLB.com. He also can be found on Twitter @danielrpopper. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.