For years, the Washington Nationals have dreamed of building a youth baseball academy in the District of Columbia. They battled through multiple layers of government, pledged $3.5 million dollars to the project, studied Harlem RBI and other programs, and finally broke ground today on the new facility.
The Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy will conduct after-school and summer programs that integrate baseball, academics and the value of teamwork for youths 8 to 18 living in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River in Wards 7 and 8.
Located in Fort Dupont Park, the nine-acre campus will feature three baseball fields and an 18,000-square-foot athletic and educational facility with classrooms and indoor training facilities.
"I've been involved in this project now for over five years," said Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent C. Gray. "It started as just a dream. I looked at my own career in baseball and just saw what the possibilities were for children. To see something move from being a dream to being a reality, there's nothing more uplifting and exhilarating than that."
In addition to the Lerner family and the mayor, other participants in the groundbreaking ceremony included U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, City Council Chair Kwame Brown, Deputy Director of the National Park Service Mickey Fearn, City Council member Yvette Alexander, William N. Hall and Greg O'Dell from the Washington Convention and Sports Authority, Kimball Elementary School Principal Sheila West-Miller and Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.
Nats manager Jim Riggleman and his coaching staff also attended the event. Shortstop Ian Desmond, who gave brief remarks, joined teammates Jerry Hairston Jr., Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa and Adam LaRoche to play catch with children from Wards 7 and 8 after the ceremony.
"This really touches home for me," Desmond said. "This is something that I wish in my town, my community, we had something like this. Hopefully, I'll be a staple in the Nationals organization for a long time and my son will grow up around the Nationals and we'll bring him here to interact with the kids."
Former Nationals manager Frank Robinson represented Major League Baseball and Commissioner Selig at the event. MLB has pledged an additional $1 million dollars to the project.
The Washington Convention and Sports Authority and the District of Columbia have already granted $10.2 million in construction funds for the academy, which is expected to open next summer.