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Baseball to Build First Youth Academy


August 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

COMPTON, Calif. (AP) -- Major league baseball will build its first youth baseball academy in the United States, a $3 million facility at Compton Community College projected to open next summer.

``This will be the culmination of a vision we have had for the last four years,'' commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday at a news conference at the college. ``It is our intention to bring baseball back to urban America.''

Plans call for four fields -- two regulation baseball fields, one softball field and one youth field -- on more than 20 acres.

``We were looking at revitalizing the game in inner cities, with the African-American community in particular,'' said Sandy Alderson, major league's baseball's executive vice president of operations.

The academy is for youngsters 11 to 17. Baseball and softball instruction will be provided for boys and girls as well as clinics and classroom instruction on such activities as coaching, umpiring, scouting, ground crew work, sports journalism and public relations.

``The demographics are perfect for what baseball is trying to do,'' Alderson said. ``The commissioner has been very supportive of the entire diversity issue, and not only for on-field positions. This is an effort to address the issue at the grass-roots level.''

Alderson expects an operating budget each year of about $1 million. Jimmie Lee Solomon, senior vice president of baseball operations, said the goal is to break ground this fall, with the academy operating eight-to-10 months later.

``Baseball has always served as a bridge that binds generations,'' Selig said. ``We are creating this academy to shore up that bridge in the urban communities. There is nothing more important than bringing kids to our game. Kids are our lifeblood.''

Baseball runs an academy in Australia that's open six weeks a year and funds another academy in Puerto Rico. Plans call for the new academy to be open all year.

Many teams have academies in the Dominican Republic, where the incentive is to develop their own players. In recent years, an influx of players have reached the major leagues from Latin America.

``This will be a major league academy,'' Alderson said. ``The purpose isn't to develop players for individual clubs but for college and professional teams generally.''

Ulis Williams, one of the world's top quarter-milers in the 1960s and an Olympic gold medalist in 1964, is superintendent of the Compton Community College District and president of the school. He thinks the academy will serve about 3,000 youngsters a year.

``Everybody's not going to make it, but now you have an opportunity to try,'' he said. ``They'll be teaching the fundamentals, that's very important in baseball. And an academic component should be a part of it.''

Also at the news conference were Angels owner Arte Moreno; Dodgers chairman and chief executive Bob Daly; former players Don Newcombe, Al Downing, Lou Johnson and Steve Yeager; and dozens of youngsters who will be involved.

``I think it's a great opportunity,'' said 16-year-old Tremain Shelton of Compton. ``They're going to give us an opportunity to play baseball.''

Major league baseball began the RBI Program -- Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities -- in 1989. More than 120,000 youngsters participate, and this year's RBI World Series begins Wednesday in Houston.

Daly contributed $12,000 of his own money to help finance the participation of Los Angeles area teams in the RBI World Series.

``Compton has embraced this project,'' Daly said. ``Our players will come here whenever they can to work with these players. We will totally support it.''

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