Major League Baseball steps up to the bat for Wesley Barrow and Pontchartrain Park
15th August 2011 · 0 Comments
By Pierce W. Huff
Standing in the weed and ant-bed infested infield at Wesley Barrow Stadium, Major League Baseball and the City of New Orleans breathed life into recreational baseball in the city when they broke ground on a $5.3 million project to build a MLB Urban Youth Academy.
The nine-month project will provide the New Orleans Recreation Department Commission with a baseball project that will consist of three fields (baseball, softball and tee ball) and other training facilities and will provide youth with free year-round baseball and softball instruction. Work on the fields is scheduled to be started within a month and everything is expected to be completed by next summer.
“It’s about giving (the kids) a chance to dream,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. “It’s about giving them the skills to do well in life.”
The academy was the brainchild New Orleans City Council Vice-President Arnie Fielkow. Fielkow approached District D Councilmember Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, whose district consists of the Pontchartrain Park neighborhood. Hedge-Morrell worked with Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, who is a New Orleans native and played at John McDonogh High School, Fielkow and Major League Baseball to make it happen.
“This is a legacy project,” Fielkow said.
For Washington, it was a dream come true.
“It’s important for the youth,” he said.
New Orleans will be the sixth city to have a MLB Urban Youth Academy. The cities that currently have academies are Compton, Calif., Houston, Texas and Gurabo, Puerto Rico. There are two other academies scheduled to be built in Philadelphia, Pa., and Hialeah, Fla. Since the first academy opened in Compton in 2006, more than 200 have participated in college baseball and softball programs, 115 student-athletes have gone on to be selected in the MLB player draft and 60 have signed professional contracts.
“Our formula is to be an agent of change and to help people in need,” said Jimmie Lee Solomon, the executive vice president of baseball development for Major League Baseball.
The announcement of the academy is a big boost for NORD, which is in the midst of trying to redevelop its once struggling department and reputation.
“We want to get NORD not just to its heyday, but beyond that,” NORD director Vic Richard said.
This article was originally published in the August 15, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper