Astros open Urban Youth Academy

Astros open Urban Youth Academy

HOUSTON -- The Astros, Major League Baseball and the city of Houston on Saturday officially opened the Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy, the second such facility in the nation to offer free year-round baseball, softball and education programs.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony took place at Sylvester Turner Park on Houston's north side, and was attended by MLB executives, Astros players and staff, and local elected officials instrumental to the project.

"This will make a huge difference in Houston," said Astros owner Drayton McLane, one of the ceremony's lead speakers. "To get baseball back in the inner cities is a big step. It's trying to teach character, discipline and teamwork, and how to work together and get things accomplished. This is going to develop not only baseball players, but abilities for a lifetime."

Modeled after the original facility established and operating in the Los Angeles area of Compton, Calif., the Academy will have a show field with permanent seating for 500 fans -- and space for an additional 1,800 fans, dugouts and lights. There's also one auxiliary field, two Little League/softball fields and 1,500 square feet of office space and other facilities.

The Astros and MLB combined to donate $600,000 to the project, a number matched by former Mayor Bill White and the city of Houston. The Astros and MLB also agreed to assume the costs and run the facility for the next 10 years.

"When Bud Selig started this project in Compton, Calif., I called him and said, 'I think Houston is the next city that needs one of these'," McLane said.

Local high school, collegiate, current and former professional baseball players will run various Major League-caliber training camps and clinics throughout the year. The free programs will be offered to a minimum of 2,500 youth, with enrollment open year-round to all in the Houston area between ages 7-17.

"Commissioner Selig and owners like Drayton McLane are committed to reviving baseball in the urban form, and this is a shining example of that," said MLB president Bob DuPuy.

Groundbreaking for the facility began on Sept. 25, 2009. Since then, the show field has been added, as well as a building that will feature office space, a team room for educational programming and meetings, equipment storage space and a special events room.

"When you work with an organization like Major League Baseball, you want to make sure that they get it, that they understand their obligation to society," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB executive vice president of baseball operations.

"Bud Selig and Bob DuPuy, they get it. Drayton McLane and the Astros organization, they get it. They understand we've got to be more than a sport. We've got to be an asset to our society and our community."

To that end, MLB signed an agreement in 2009 to build a third Urban Youth Academy in Hialeah, Fla., an area near Miami.

Since the original Urban Youth Academy opened in 2006, more than 100 of the Academy's student athletes have participated in college baseball or softball programs, with more than 75 signed or drafted by Major League teams, and 49 having already signed professional contracts. In addition, more than 90 percent have graduated from high school.

"My message is simply this -- I'm part of the 'leave no child inside' campaign," said congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, one of the elected officials who assisted in acquiring government funding for the project. "We need to get our children outdoors, let them understand how to be athletic with integrity and character."

Dignitaries who attended the opening included DuPuy, Solomon, McLane and Astros president of business operations Pam Gardner, Houston mayor Annise Parker, Jackson Lee and state Rep. Sylvester Turner, for whom the facility was named.

Turner represents the Houston north side district in which the Academy resides, and took the lead on acquiring state funding.

Astros manager Brad Mills also attended, along with players Wandy Rodriguez, J.R. Towles, Michael Bourn, Sammy Gervacio, Jeff Keppinger, Chris Johnson and Tommy Manzella. General manager Ed Wade and president of baseball operations Tal Smith were also on hand.

Following the ceremony, the new facility played host to the Third Annual Family Day in the Park for the Acres Homes community, which included food and beverages, T-shirts and games for kids, baseball exhibitions and other activities.

For McLane and other MLB representatives on hand, it also served as a reminder that the most significant work still remains to be done.

"When you get a park like this, the easy part is to build it and dedicate it," McLane said. "The real hard part is to use it correctly and to operate it, maintain it, and keep it at a high standard. My hope is in 30 years it's looking this good or better."


Ben DuBose is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.