New Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred got an extensive tour of the Nationals Youth baseball Academy in southeast Washington on Wednesday and came away from the visit very impressed with its progress.
“I’m always happy to be in Washington. Obviously, Washington is always a special market for us, the nation’s capital,” he said. “I appreciate the Nationals hosting me today. The visit here is really important to me. One of the things I hope to accomplish during my time as commissioner is to increase the number of kids who play our game and are interested in our game. A program like this is just an example of Major League Baseball and one of its clubs at its best.”
Manfred said he had seen pictures of the facility, but touring the grounds, the classrooms, the kitchen and the baseball and softball fields made a big difference.
“I think seeing it in person makes you appreciate the scope of it, the quality of the facility, how appealing the fields are,” Manfred said. “A place to play for kids to play is so important. You look at these fields and they are really appealing.”
Academy executive director Tal Alter said it was a big honor to have the commissioner as a guest.
“For him to be gushing about what we are doing gives us a lot of pride,” Alter said. “But I also have been paying close attention to what he has been saying about his goals for baseball and youth baseball, specifically the development of baseball in the inner city, (which) is a priority for him.”
“What the Nationals have done here is unbelievable,” Manfred said. “It promotes the goals of participation and diversity that are so important to our game. I really cannot commend the entire Lerner family enough for what they have done here. It’s a great facility.”
Said Alter: “We feel very strongly that what we are doing here is the way to do it. We want to be a major part of making that happen in Washington, but also developing a model that can be replicated in other cities. It will take some resources to pull that off, but he’s very clear he is willing to do whatever it takes to make this happen and I think that’s exciting for us to think about.”
The Youth Baseball Academy has a daily schedule for each student and scholar-athlete they have attend the after-school program.
An typical daily schedule begins with students’ arrival and a meal. Next is baseball for boys and study hall for girls, then study hall for boys and softball for girls, enrichment through mentors and electives, team time and then dismissal around 7:30 p.m.
One of the mentors is Christine Turner Jackson, who works with third-graders in literature. She says the experience of mentoring these kids has been rewarding.
“The kids have a lot of excitement,” Jackson said. “The coaches are excellent. There is social bonding. That’s the most important I think because when you hear their stories it kind of breaks your heart that some of them don’t have anyone who has taken an interest on a regular basis.”
Manfred also got the chance to get reacquainted with Nationals Youth Baseball Academy coaches DeAndre Walker and Mason Isom, both of whom he met while watching 13-year-old phenom Mo’ne Davis pitching in the Little League World Series, making his visit even more special.
“I looked at (Walker) and I said, ‘Where do I know him from?’ and he reminded me I had met him in Williamsport,” Manfred said. “I also met my nephew’s high school baseball coach from Gonzaga. So it was a nice day personally all the way around.”