MLB Urban Youth Academy makes investment in local youth
26th November 2012 · 0 Comments
By Ro Brown
Thanks to Major League Baseball, FEMA and the New Orleans Recreation Department Commission, young people in New Orleans have a new opportunity to experience the game we call our nation’s pastime.
Dedication ceremonies were held recently at the brand new, state of the art Wesley Barrow Stadium. The $6.5 million complex will be home of the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy, providing free, year-round instruction in baseball and softball.
The new facility which replaces the 55-year-old stadium that was damaged by Hurricane Katrina, has a seating capacity of 650 and includes softball and Tee Ball fields in addition to an indoor batting facility.
Twenty-five years ago Major League Baseball set out to revive interest in the sport in urban areas. They called it Reviving Baseball in Inner-Cities (RBI). The Urban Youth Academy grew out of that initiative.
Former major leaguer Darrell Miller is director of the academy in Compton, California.
“It’s all about giving kids who are under represented, kids that need another chance, a little more opportunity and a chance to play baseball. It takes it to the next level because we have a brick and mortar presence in the inner city,” said the former California Angel.
The New Orleans academy is the fourth of its kind, joining programs in Compton, California, Houston, Texas and Gurabo, Puerto Rico.
The man charged with directing the New Orleans Urban Youth Academy at Pontchartrain Park is Eddie Davis. Baseball is in his blood. A graduate of McDonogh 35 High School where he played for the late Ed “Hawk” Pierce, Davis played in the 1993 College World Series while attending Long Beach State. He hit two home runs in a Long Beach State win over LSU in Omaha. He says the Urban Youth Academy is about more than producing future big leaguers.
“It’s about developing the whole person, the whole kid. My ultimate goal is to get these kids in college at no cost. If they can use baseball to better their education that’s my goal.”
The Wesley Barrow Stadium complex and the Urban Youth Academy is a dream come true for Davis. Along with his close friend Duane Stelly, they formed an organization called “Givin Back To The Hood.”
“Baseball provided us with the opportunity to travel and see the world and we figured it would be nice to get kids in the same position we were in. It’s basically the same model we developed back in 1995 with Major League Baseball’s stamp and branding and their backing. So it’s come full circle.”
When Eddie Davis looks at the new stadium he thinks of those who came before him and how they fit into the equation.
“We have lots of guys still here who played in the old Barrow Stadium and I’d like to get them involved in teaching and giving back to create something special,” said Davis.
Who was Wesley Barrow?
Named Pontchartrain Park Stadium when dedicated over half a century ago, in 1968 it was officially renamed Wesley Barrow Stadium in honor of the longtime Negro League player, manager and organizer who died in 1965.
Four of Barrow’s contemporaries were present at the dedication. Negro Leaguers Herbert Simpson, Paul Lewis, Eric Brown and Gerald Sazon all expressed excitement that the new stadium kept its old name, honoring a baseball lifer they revere.
All were members of the Old Timer’s Baseball Club, founded by fellow Negro Leaguer and Sugar Bowl New Orleans Sports Hall of Famer Walter Wright. For more than 30 years Barrow Stadium was the site of the club’s annual Father’s Day Old Timer’s Game.
“If Wesley Barrow was here he’d ask, ‘Can you see the light?’” said Sazon “It was a secret code we had. That meant people cheering in the stands.”
Parents interested in getting their children involved with the New Orleans Urban Youth Academy can do so by registering on line, by phone or in person.
This article was originally published in the November 26, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper