From the time they arrived from Montreal before the 2005 season, the Nationals have been a mainstay in the Washington, D.C., sports scene. But the Nats are also very active in the community, working diligently over the past decade to touch the lives of many in the region and proving that baseball has a further reach than wins and losses, balls and strikes, batters and pitchers. Each Thursday through mid-August, MASNsports.com’s Byron Kerr will explore the Nationals’ community outreach efforts, showing how far their reach has extended and how deeply committed to Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area the Nationals are.
The Nationals Youth Baseball Academy welcomed Nationals players and coaches to the facility last Friday to celebrate the completion of their summer curriculum.
Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond, Denard Span, Reed Johnson, Tony Tarasco and manager Matt Williams were just a few of the Nationals represented. The players and coaches took a tour of the facility and played baseball and softball with the academy scholar-athletes.
Youth Baseball Academy executive director Tal Alter said it was a unique day for the scholar-athletes because they got to demonstrate how much they have learned on and off the field, and just how far the academy has grown in just a few years.
“They see (Nationals players) at the ballpark, but they don’t see them here,” Alter said. “While they usually feel hosted by them, today they’re the hosts. I think that’s very cool because they get to show off. We can’t do anything successful here unless kids feel ownership of what’s going on. I’ve mentioned fun a few times, but you can’t overemphasize it. For them to be rewarded by seeing that people care enough to come out and see them in their environment, I think that is extremely meaningful.”
It is amazing to look at the academy of today and remember the groundbreaking just a couple of years ago. But Alter was quick to point out that the academy is still just in its infancy as far as building itself academically and athletically in this part of the city.
“The whole community can be proud of it,” Alter said. “I think anyone who is a Nationals fan can be proud that our team is a part of doing something so meaningful in the city. We are just at the beginning. This is a long-term process. To that end, we are very much focused on process over results. If we do things the right way, if children participate in a meaningful way throughout the year, then the results will come from that.”
Alter said the academy is measuring the growth of the scholar-athletes in the classroom and not just providing them instruction to pass the time.
“I think they’ve learned quite a bit,” Alter said. “We are measuring their progress academically and we’ll have our final reports in just two weeks. I’m confident that we’re going to see measurable growth.”
The students showed off their projects in such subjects as math and science with displays documenting their work similar to a science fair.
I asked a couple of the scholar-athletes why the academy so important to them.
“Because, to me, you don’t get opportunities like this every day, so to have somewhere close to you that gives you an opportunity to work on what you love and to learn more is really nice,” said sixth-grader Makiah McKnight.
“It’s very good that the Youth Baseball Academy is around because some kids don’t have the chance to go somewhere all summer. I was in the house all summer until I started the academy,” said sixth-grader Jasmine Richardson. “It’s very fun for me.”
One of the examples of learning is the science curriculum we highlighted in a previous “10 in 10” entry. Alter had talked about they talked the scholar-athletes about angular momentum in which they showed it was much faster for a base runner to round a base in a curved formation instead of just taking 90-degree angles and running to each base.
“Research is also very clear that the best way to learn something is by doing it,” Alter said. “If you combine someone hearing about something and someone reading something with them doing it, then the ability to learn it and really process that information is much more powerful. The fact that we can teach science through baseball, I know I would’ve been a much better science student if I learned that way.”
Every day during the summer, breakfast and lunch is provided to the students. The after-school program includes dinner and a snack for the scholar-athletes. The whole program is free of charge.
“We can build a concession stand that sells our own fruits and vegetables so kids can be a part of all of that. That’s why we call it holistic,” Alter noted.
The academy has wrapped up another summer of classes and now organizers are excited to get going with the academic school year beginning soon. The enthusiasm and vibrancy demonstrated at the academy assures all the students that they will hit a home run here just be stepping onto the grounds each day.
Miss any of the previous installments of “10 in 10” detailing the Nationals’ community outreach efforts? Here is the list to date:
June 11 - Dream Foundation builds off success to introduce new initiative
June 18 - Nationals look to improve D.C. Little Leagues with new uniforms, equipment and fields
June 25 - Diabetes Care Complex critical to Dream Foundation mission
July 2 - ziMS Foundation has raised more than $1 million for MS research
July 9 - Span starts his own foundation to help single-parent families
July 16 - Storen makes a pitch for D.C. Public Library summer reading program
July 23 - Scherzer signs on to Cards for a Cause fundraiser
July 30 - Youth Baseball Academy completes new Science of Baseball curriculum
Aug. 6 - Military is an integral part of Nationals family