Reds break ground on new Urban Youth Academy
First academy in Midwest will provide free year-round instruction to local youth
One of the greatest moments in the history of the Reds franchise, according to president and CEO Bob Castellini, had nothing to do with the score of a game. It didn't involve some sort of career milestone or record, and it didn't get the club any closer to winning another World Series.
This moment took place on Tuesday morning about nine miles away from Great American Ball Park at Roselawn Park, where the Reds and Major League Baseball broke ground on the P&G Cincinnati MLB Urban Youth Academy, which will bring free year-round instruction in baseball and softball to the area's youth.
The academy is the seventh of its kind to be built or developed across the United States and Puerto Rico. It's the first one in the Midwest, though, and Castellini, along with his son Phil and former Reds second baseman Joe Morgan, fought hard for Cincinnati to house such an establishment.
"This is no small feat," Castellini said. "This is a huge victory for our community."
Although the Reds Community Fund already operates an Urban Youth Academy at Gamble Montessori High School in Winton Terrace, the permanent location will be a drastic improvement.
The $5.5 million complex will include four newly renovated outdoor baseball and softball fields and a 33,000-square-foot indoor facility that will hold batting cages, pitching tunnels and another field. Construction is set to begin next week, and MLB vice president of youth and facility development Darrell Miller said the outdoor portion of the project should be done by next spring.
Among other donors, Proctor & Gamble submitted a $2 million to the project, while Major League Baseball announced a $1.5 million commitment in January. Reds players Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips also contributed financially.
Votto and Bruce were at the groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday, and they were both blown away by what the academy can bring to Cincinnati.
"For me to be a part of something like this is very exciting, because I grew up throwing the ball against a school wall," Votto said. "I'm sure Jay played in sandlots similar to what I did, and having a wonderful place like this ... I'm very excited for that."
Morgan, who is now the Reds' senior director of diversity and strategic initiatives, said bringing an Urban Youth Academy to Cincinnati has been a long time coming. About 15 years ago, Morgan approached Commissioner Bud Selig about bringing the same type of baseball academies found in other countries to the United States. In 2006, Morgan saw that come to fruition, when MLB opened its first domestic Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif.
After spending eight years of his Hall of Fame career with the Reds, Morgan returned to the organization in 2010. On Tuesday, he received much of the credit for bringing the academy to Cincinnati, but he deflected it to the Castellinis and others involved.
"They were going to get this done whether I was here or not, because they made that commitment," Morgan said. "I saw that commitment, and I wanted to be a part of it. If anything, I hastened it and helped it become quicker, because I do have friends in high places."
The Urban Youth Academies, which are open to 6-to 18-year olds, have a focus on baseball but also bring a social and academic element. Along with SAT and ACT prep programs, Miller said young people can expect to learn life lessons incorporated in the game.
"Baseball doesn't solve all the issues," Miller said. "It is a social institution. But it does give us the opportunity to make a difference on a day-to-day basis. It's the only game that mimics everyday living. You have to show up every single day to be a baseball player."
As a reflection of the program's success, Miller said more than 100 kids have been drafted and thousands have played college baseball after going through the academy. Just this year, five players who were once involved with the academies were taken in the first two rounds, including two from the Compton location.
Miller now expects the same type of success in Cincinnati, where he said he's most excited to put an Urban Youth Academy in place.
"It's unbelievably significant, because this is one of the birthplaces of baseball in America," Miller said. "Therefore, it has tremendous tradition and a tremendous history. We want to make sure that history stays intact and is alive. I think kids here want to play baseball, but they just need a little bit more help getting the resources and knowing how to play."
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.