Second Major League Baseball Urban Youth academy set to hit Hialeah
By Jacquelyn Weiner
Major League Baseball is moving ahead to build in Hialeah its second Urban Youth Baseball Academy.
With an agreement in place, plans are to break ground as soon as the project gets final approval from the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management, said Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina.
"Once that's done we can move forward," he said, adding that he would be meeting with Major League Baseball in January to discuss plans for the facility.
The academy is to be the second of its kind, following the first Major League Baseball Urban Youth Baseball Academy that opened in Compton, CA, in 2006, according to Major League Baseball's Web site.
A third, according to the Web Site, is set to be built in Houston.
While the budget for the academy has been cited in the $3 million ballpark, Jimmie Lee Solomon, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, said the final tab remains flexible.
"I don't want to limit it," Mr. Solomon said. "We may be looking to expand things."
Further, "It just depends on where we are at that time," he said. "There's always more and more you can do where kids are concerned."
The academy, which is to offer free sports and education programs to youths age 7 to 18 in Greater Miami, serves as a way for the City of Hialeah to still reap benefits from the construction of a Marlins stadium after a Hialeah site was passed over in favor of the former Orange Bowl site near downtown.
Determined still to claim a slice of baseball benefits, Mayor Robaina pitched successfully for a Major League Baseball youth center in the Hialeah, which is now being marketed as a component of the Marlins stadium project.
Mayor Robaina said he sees it as less a tradeoff and more a service to a community that welcomed the idea of a Marlins stadium in their area.
"I think that they noticed the enthusiasm of this community for baseball," Mr. Robaina said.
When the academy opens at a site west of I-75 and just east of Florida's Turnpike at Northwest 36th Avenue and Northwest 87th Street in Hialeah on land development firm Flagler is to transfer to the City of Hialeah, it is to include a show field with a scoreboard, dugouts and lights, seating for 700 fans and space for an additional 1,800 and four softball/Little League fields, among other features, according to a Major League Baseball news release.
The academy is to be open year around, offering local children free softball and baseball instruction.
At least 2,500 youths are expected to participate in the academy's programs during its first year, according to the release.
In addition, staff is to include former minor and major league players.
The Florida Marlins also plan to be a part of the academy by holding clinics and other events with the players and coaches, said P.J. Loyello, senior vice president of communications.
"We'll make sure that the proper kids are receiving the right instruction," Mr. Loyello said.
Mr. Loyello said the Marlins hold about 100 baseball clinics a year and having the new academy will make it even easier for them to give back.
"Basically, it will be an extension of our community outreach," he said.
In addition to sports offerings, the academy will afford those who are less sports minded opportunities to participate in free seminars on "umpiring, athletic field management, scouting and player development, sports and broadcast journalism, public relations and statistics," according to the release.
While the academy aims to bring baseball to South Florida children, "we also want to make sure the kids have an opportunity to go to college," Mr. Solomon said.
Thus the educational programs, he said, many of which cater to job paths tied to baseball.
"There are many, many jobs around the game of baseball that have nothing to do with actually playing," Mr. Solomon said. "Play by play, groundskeepers, umpires, scouts."
Yet at the same time, Major League is placing its facility in South Florida, an area known for breeding athletic talent, Mr. Solomon said: "At the end of the day, we are a business that plays the game of baseball."