Improving youth baseball isn’t a new endeavor for the Texas Rangers, whose ownership group has made it a front-burner issue for the club’s foundation.
But the plans unveiled Tuesday rate as their biggest initiative so far, and the Urban Youth Academy to be built in West Dallas is a big deal.
Commissioner Rob Manfred made the announcement ahead of the quarterly MLB owners’ meetings Wednesday and Thursday at the Fairmont Dallas hotel, saying that the No. 1 responsibility of his office is to make the game more accessible and easier to play for all kids.
I know that for many years to come young people in the Dallas area will be well-served by this project.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred
The Rangers and their multiple partners in the project will be doing their part.
“We are truly committed to on-field diversity and the academy program,” said Neil Leibman, chairman of the Rangers ownership committee. “We’re excited about the impact this urban academy will have on the West Dallas area as well as the North Texas region.”
The Rangers have donated $250,000 the past three seasons and have more than 1,500 RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) participants across North Texas. One of their partners, Dallas-based Mercy Street, will work on the new project, and Mercy Street partner Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles Dodgers ace and Dallas native, made a financial gift.
More than 8,000 kids in West Dallas will have access to the new facility, which will be open year-round for baseball and softball players. Plans call for a 17-acre complex at the intersection of Hampton Road and Bickers Street, where four fields and an academy building will be built beginning next year with a target opening set for 2017.
A professional-size field, with seating up to 750, will be named after late Rangers manager Johnny Oates, and one of the youth fields will carry the name of Kershaw’s foundation — Kershaw’s Challenge.
Inside the academy building will be a turf infield, six batting/pitching cages, classrooms and a weight room. The Rangers will pay for the management of the facility and supply equipment.
5 Fields planned for the Rangers Urban Youth Academy, including the enhancement of the existing Field of Dreams high school field
The complex will be available either free of charge or at a significant discount to help offset costs for a game that has become too expensive for many to play at a high level.
“When I was growing up, I took it for granted being able to play baseball on a field,” said Kershaw, who was joined by Rangers left-hander Derek Holland. “I really didn’t understand what a blessing that is to be able to have a baseball field to play on and coaches that care about us.”
MLB and the MLB Players Association announced at the All-Star Game in July a $30 million effort to expand youth baseball, and the Rangers Urban Youth Academy is one of the first projects.
It will become the ninth academy nationwide, with one also in Houston. The first opened in 2006 in Compton, Calif., where Rangers 2015 first-round pick Dillon Tate participated.
The Rangers Urban Youth Academy will be the ninth across the country, with facilities also announced in San Francisco and Kansas City. Texas will have two academies, with one already operating in Houston.
The goal of the West Dallas academy isn’t necessarily to create a pipeline to the majors, but to grow the game.
“There is no charge for the commissioner’s office that is more important than reaching out to young people and making our game accessible,” Manfred said.
“Of particular importance within that effort is that we reach into underserved areas and make sure everyone, every kid that wants to play, has an opportunity to play our great game. I know that the Texas Rangers MLB Urban Youth Academy will play an important role in our ongoing efforts moving forward.”