Sunday, April 05, 2009

D.C. Public High School Initiative

“I want to say at the outset that as we kick-off this 2009 Season," stated D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, "how great it has been for the city to partner with The Nationals, with The Lerner Family on so many different things over the past year here at the new stadium—and even before that as we were preparing to come (to Nationals Park). This new initiative may be one of the most long-lasting initiatives that we are partnering on."

Mayor Fenty was standing in The Media Room at Nationals Park late yesterday afternoon. He was on hand--along with some of The District Of Columbia's Council Members, Nationals Owner Ted Lerner, his wife Annette, his son Mark and a host of teenagers from nine different D.C. Public High Schools. Team President Stan Kasten had just announced Our Washington Nationals 2009 Public High School Initiative. A three-step ground breaking program that will allow all 12 public high schools in The Nation's Capital to book one scheduled practice per season at Nationals Park for their baseball programs. Additionally, every single school will have their very own day at The South Capitol Street Ballpark where every single student (that's the entire school, not just the baseball players) will be given a free ticket to an upcoming game during the 2009 Regular Season--all at no expense to The D.C. Public Schools. Additionally, Our Washington Nationals will conduct a baseball equipment drive in May--all donations to be distributed among the participating high schools.

“We are going to work our schedule (The Nationals), said Team President Stan Kasten. "Each is going to have a day where they just come and have their own team practice on the field. They will be using the field. They will be using the cages, our screens out on the field. They will use our indoor batting cages. They will have a regular practice just like the Big Leaguers have.”

Already, Cardozo and Roosevelt Senior Highs and Dunbar have booked their practice dates.

"I think what this will have the opportunity to do is to rejuvenate baseball in The District of Columbia," believes D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray. "We have a few teams that are very good. We have a lot of teams that aren’t very good. And I think the opportunity to see a Big League Team, to be around Big League Players, to be involved with the highest level of baseball—will have a catalytic effect on our young people. You know, a few days ago, we had Maury Wills (former Major League Great) at the Wilson Building (DC Government) because the city was renaming Banneker Field in his honor and he told a story there that was absolutely unforgettable. He (Maury Wills) talked about how he grew up in Kenilworth (Section of DC) in some very difficult circumstances. And one day a member of The Washington Senators—he called him Jerry Priddy—showed up to do a brief clinic. And two hours later this guy was still there working with the kids. And he (Wills) said this man told him: ‘that if I really applied myself, it I worked hard, I had a chance to go far in baseball.’ And he (Wills) really talked about how it changed his life as a result of that (encounter). Wills said he was hanging out in the streets, doing other things. And he really changed his ways. He (Wills) credited him (Priddy) more than any other person with having helped him get on a path toward Major League Baseball. So I think that this is telling in and off itself what this opportunity can do. And we should remember that for a very long time--we had no Major League Baseball Players from The District Of Columbia between Maury Wills and Emmanuel Burriss (The San Francisco Giants current player). You can’t tell me that we don’t have athletes of the quality to play Major League Baseball. This will be just the Stimulus Package that we need to get them going again.”

The Baseball Equipment Drive will take place during the upcoming weekend series with The St.Louis Cardinals from May 1st through May 3rd at Nationals Park. A $5,000 Grant from Major League Baseball's "Baseball Tomorrow Fund" will also be donated to the District's High School Athletic Departments.

Mayor Fenty also pleased with the opportunity to open up fresh outlooks for youngsters: "Without any question, if you give out 500 complimentary tickets to a high school to come in on their day—probably way into the 75 to 80 percent of those kids have never come to a game. So we are creating a whole new generation of baseball fans. A whole new generation of people who will have one more reason to be proud of their city. As someone who was born and raised in D.C. literally right at the time when our last baseball team (The Senators) had left the city—and having grown up without that opportunity—I have a special appreciation for what we are doing here today. And I am thankful for what it is going to mean for civic pride in Washington, D.C. for a long, long time."

Vice-Chair Jack Evans couldn't agree more: "As many of you know, I’ve spent a lot of my time trying to make this happen. During that whole process of two or three years, there was a lot of negativity. There were a lot of people who said we shouldn’t be doing this because all we are doing is supporting billionaires and promoting a sport that no one is really that interested in. And yet we persisted and fought our way through it and got this stadium built. And we got a team moved to the city. We have some great owners here. And we really have now what we set out to do. But it was more than that. What I have tried to convey to everyone at the time—it was more than just having a baseball team in Washington—which was an enormous achievement in and of itself. It’s the things we are doing today. It’s the reaching out to the community. It’s the bringing in of the whole experience—that is what I am talking about—bringing our youth in and the interaction that takes place.”

All the high school practices will take place before the end of the school year and will be held between 3:30PM and 5:30PM on the dates each school books. Two hours to practice like a Major Leaguer. 120 Minutes to act like a professional.

"We are sitting here (at Nationals Park) and I could argue all day long about the dollars with Commissioner (Bud) Selig (over MLB Baseball moving to Washington)—but this is priceless," says D.C. Council Member Harry Thomas, Jr. "You will never be able to tell anyone when you talk to these kids about their experience (of practicing at Nationals Park) and put a price tag on it. So don’t put a price tag on baseball because the promises we are making for these young people--we are keeping."

No other Major League Team has a similar program. Depending on the success of this pilot program, Mr. Kasten expects to share this Public High School Initiative experience with all 30 other Big League Franchises. Before yesterday's exhibition game between Our Washington Nationals and The Baltimore Orioles--all those present at the press conference also went down to the field where Our Team President publicly announced this effort.

"WE COULD NOT BE PROUDER representing this city—representing The District—and getting the involvement of all the kids in our high schools involved here at Nationals Park," concluded Mr. Kasten.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

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