When it comes to sports, kids have a lot of options to choose from: football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse. But fewer and fewer kids are watching or playing baseball.
Major League Baseball is trying to reverse this trend. One way it’s doing that is through its MLB Urban Youth Academy programs. Specifically aimed at inner-city athletes, MLB Urban Youth Academies teach kids baseball and life skills both on and off the field.
The first Academy opened in Compton, California, in 2006. Since then, four more have opened — the most recent being in Philadelphia, home of the Phillies.
Last Thursday, the outdoor phase of Philadelphia’s Academy was officially opened with a ceremony at the new field. It will serve more than 8,000 kids who are in the Phillies Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program.
Representatives from the city, Major League Baseball, and the Phillies were in attendance to speak about the importance of the program for the city’s youth.
“This new field serves as a major-league forum for the next generation of baseball, and as a result, the more than 8,000 players in our RBI program will have even more opportunities to further showcase and develop their skills, starting with the Phillies Carpenter Cup on June 15,” said Phillies chairman David Montgomery. “This is indeed a proud moment for the Phillies, Major League Baseball, and the City of Philadelphia, and the start of an even brighter future for talented, young baseball players.”
The Phillies MLB Urban Youth Academy is a partnership between the Phillies, MLB, and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. It will the first multi-site Academy, with indoor facilities at Marian Anderson Recreation Center and outdoor fields at FDR Park, just a few minutes from Citizen’s Bank Park, where the Phillies play.
The outdoor component will feature two softball fields and two baseball fields: the existing Ashburn field and a new show field complete with a scoreboard, dugouts, a press box, and seating for 450 spectators.
In addition to teaching on-the-field baseball and softball skills, kids who attend the Academy will also learn about umpiring, field management, scouting, sports and broadcast journalism, public relations, and athletic sports training — all for free.
The MLB’s commitment to kids even extends to the classroom. The Urban Youth Academy’s goal is for 100 percent of their youth to graduate, and they provide free educational programs such as SAT and ACT practice.
“This Academy will give the kids of Philadelphia access to outstanding facilities where they can learn our game, foster their interests and – most importantly – grow as individuals,” said MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
Retired baseball players think that the Urban Youth Academy is a great opportunity for the next generation of MLB stars.
“I think this is going to open the door for a lot of these kids, and we’ll really see some great ballplayers out of this area,” said Mahlon Duckett, the last living member of the Negro Leagues team the Philadelphia Stars.
In the next few years, the MLB hopes to expand to more cities, giving young players across the country the chance to get back into baseball.
Since the Urban Youth Academy program began, more than 20,000 boys and girls have gone through the Academies in Compton, Cincinnati, Houston, and New Orleans. More than 500 kids from the Academies have played baseball and softball in college, and almost 150 have been drafted by MLB clubs.
Photos: Jeff Zelevansky/MLB.com