MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred visits the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy
by Kyle Mann
In his introductory letter to baseball fans, less than two weeks ago, new Commissioner of Major League Baseball Rob Manfred made it clear that expanding youth baseball and softball programs, particularly in underserved areas, will be one of his core areas of focus.
As his January 25 letter stated:
“My top priority is to bring more people into our game — at all levels and from all communities. Specifically, I plan to make the game more accessible to those in underserved areas, especially in the urban areas where fields and infrastructure are harder to find. Giving more kids the opportunity to play will inspire a new generation to fall in love with baseball just as we did when we were kids.”
Commissioner Manfred followed up on his promise by visiting the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy on Wednesday afternoon. In town serving as the keynote speaker at the Nationals Partner Summit earlier in the day, the Commissioner made his way to Ward 7’s Fort Dupont Park to tour the Academy and visit with staff members and scholar-athletes.
The Youth Baseball Academy’s mission, to use baseball and softball as vehicles to foster positive character development, academic achievement, and improved health among youth from at-risk communities in D.C., dovetails with Commissioner Manfred’s key goal of making the game more accessible in those areas. With a high school dropout rate of more than 60 percent in Wards 7 & 8, the areas the Youth Baseball Academy serves, its focus on providing personalized academic attention and mentoring, along with baseball and softball instruction, address this issue head-on.
In a visit initially scheduled for his third day in office (which was postponed due to snow) the Commissioner received a tour of the facility from Academy Executive Director Tal Alter and scholar-athletes Duane Dargin and JaNia Jackson. Commissioner Manfred’s tour of the 18,000 square foot facility included stops in one of the seven classrooms, the facility’s state-of-the-art teaching kitchen, the observation deck that overlooks all three fields, and the one-of-a-kind multi-purpose training indoor/outdoor training space.
One of the cornerstone programs of the Washington Nationals Youth Dream Foundation — chaired by Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, one of the Nationals’ Principal Owners — the Youth Baseball Academy works with scholar-athletes in third through eighth grade. This structure enables scholar-athletes to start high school with the tools necessary not only to graduate, but to attend, and succeed, in college. The Youth Baseball Academy is focused on instilling a love of physical activity and utilizes baseball and softball to teach the qualities of teamwork, determination and resiliency to help scholar-athletes overcome the challenges of poverty and reach their full potential.
This thorough and well-rounded approach was important to Tanenbaum when she developed the Youth Baseball Academy, and sets it apart from pure baseball academies.
While in one of the classrooms, Commissioner Manfred spoke with Christine Jackson, one of the Youth Baseball Academy’s 90 mentors — each of whom volunteer two hours a week, 25 weeks per year. Jackson, a former teacher, struck a cord with the Commissioner when she spoke of how she focuses on creating an inter-generational connection between scholar-athletes and former Negro League baseball players to develop a love for baseball and education.
As he wrapped up his visit, Commissioner Manfred mentioned how he’s, “Always happy to be in Washington, a special market for us in the nation’s capital,” but, “This visit (to the Youth Baseball Academy) is really important to me.”
“What the Nationals have done here is unbelievable,” he said. “(It) promotes goals of participation and diversity. This is Major League Baseball and one of its teams at its best. I cannot commend the Nationals and Lerner family enough.”