In the Hub City there is more to baseball than the American League and National League playoffs. But America's favorite pastime almost vanished from most inner cities in the early 1970s when youth baseball left the urban areas for the suburbs.
With the departure of neighborhood park leagues like "Pee Wee," "Babe Ruth" and "Connie Mack" went a unique opportunity for children of color to learn about teamwork, discipline and character. They were part of a bond where success or failure depended on confidence in one another.
Flash forward 40 years to see that inner-city baseball has made it back in a big way. The Major League Baseball (MLB) Urban Youth Academy on the grounds of Compton College, is a youth baseball school, which provides free baseball and softball instruction for Southern California boys and girls ages 8 through 19. The academy operates on a year-round basis and offers an after-school program, weeklong clinics (accommodating about 200 youth daily) and monthlong clinics designed to teach not only baseball, but important life lessons as well.
The academy is a convergence point for baseball players from all over the Southland. Its primary attendees, though, are from some of the nation's toughest and most impoverished neighborhoods, such as Watts/Willowbrook, Compton, South Central and Florence-Firestone.
These regions of Los Angeles have for decades endured endemic unemployment, excessive single-parent households, high dropout rates, rampant drug trafficking, mandated school busing and the growth of some of the world's most violent street gangs. Add to these two riots, recessions and the relocation of major manufacturing, and the result was two generations of youth would forgo baseball for a less expensive sport . . . like basketball.
Open since 2006 and encompassing 10 acres, the academy features state-of-the-art facilities, including a show field complete with multimedia scoreboard, grandstand, dugouts and lights. There is an auxiliary field, a softball field, batting cages, pitching mounds and a youth field. Its 12,000-square-foot clubhouse is designed much like a professional sports venue with a press box, a weight room, a Laundromat, locker rooms and showers and equipment and training rooms. There is secured, lighted parking as well as full culinary facilities and glass-walled executive offices.
As a nonprofit organization, the academy partners with the surrounding school districts, community groups, nearby colleges and universities and youth foundations to provide educational programs and classroom instruction in everything baseball: athletic turf maintenance, statistics, umpiring, athletic training and even sports reporting and broadcasting. Personal tutoring and counseling are provided for academic and career development.
Staffed by former major and minor league players and coaches, the academy is directed by Ike Hampton who remarked that the facility is often confused with Reviving Baseball in the Inner City (RBI), which is operated by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
"That's a common mistake people often make," said, Ike Hampton. "The RBI program began some years before us and they serve as a great partner to the academy. It was the success of that program that gave rise to the academy here. Our mission is to offer any and all instruction in baseball. Through athletics we can help build character, self-discipline, teamwork and sportsmanship."