The Nationals Youth Baseball Academy celebrated its grand opening Saturday at Fort Dupont Park with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The year-round educational and athletic facility, which already has 55 students in attendance, provides quality after school and summer learning programs for boys and girls in D.C. neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.
Nationals players and coaches stood behind principal owner Marla Lerner Tanenbaum during the presentation.
Invited guests included Academy scholar-athletes; D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray; Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor, Department of the Interior; Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton; D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson; D.C. Councilmember Yvette Alexander; Events DC President and CEO Greg O'Dell; Nationals Youth Baseball Academy Chair Rodney Slater; Nationals President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo; and Nationals Managing Principal Owner Theodore N. Lerner.
Manager Matt Williams said the Youth Baseball Academy is more than just three brand new baseball fields and an indoor facility.
"It is interesting. Baseball is the setting there, but it is not about that," Williams said. "It is about providing opportunity (for) the youth of that area and beyond. It is about mentorship, education and diversity. It all kind of centers around baseball, which is really cool.
"The fields are wonderful. The facility is beautiful. But beyond that it is about giving these kids an opportunity in whatever arena it may be. Baseball is certainly there for them but there are other activities as well."
Right-hander Stephen Strasburg remembers when he played for San Diego State and a similar facility that opened up in the Los Angeles area.
"It is amazing just getting a chance to talk some of the kids there, especially some of the older kids, too," Strasburg said. "Guys that maybe didn't have an opportunity to play baseball and play on a team and have the facilities that they put in there.
"I think it is going to change a lot of kids' lives, give them something to strive for and shoot for. I saw that first hand, we opened up my junior year (at San Diego State) the urban youth complex in Compton (Calif.). Just seeing the facility like that and how much turnout and the buzz they got. Every single year they had tournaments there. I think it is going to be a huge impact for the community."
Gray was on hand to take part in the celebration and ribbon cutting. He remembered the road blocks the Academy had in its infancy, securing National Park Service land for use by the facility and its members for construction.
"Here we are eight years later," Gray said of those first days when all they had were ideas and sketches of Academy possibilities. "Now have to see this come to fruition. There was a lot of points along the way where I think we could have abandoned the idea. Just getting the land transferred to city use was a monumental process. We probably have had three or four Secretaries of the Interior who have been involved in this."
Shortstop Ian Desmond brought his scholar-athlete onto the stage with him to the front of the dais for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. He recalled when he first started playing baseball as a kid and the players that he stood alongside. He remembered seeing a lot of potential.
"I think every player can attest to this that we have all played with guys as young kids that were much more talented than us, or just ran into hard times, or got caught up in the wrong crowds," Desmond said. "It is keeping kids off the street and getting them involved in sports and education and really keeping them busy. That is going to make better citizens and that is the goal of this place."
Below are pictures from the Youth Baseball Academy grand opening.