Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation Baseball Academy

“Baseball has been lost in the city for far too long," stated Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, Chairperson for The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation. " I think that was brought home clearly to us (Owners of Our Washington Nationals) when Emmanuel Burris came here a few weeks ago playing for The San Francisco Giants. To see how long it had been since a DC Public School child had played in The Major Leagues speaks volumes as to the need for this academy."

The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation is in the planning stages of building The Washington Nationals DC Baseball Academy in Ward 7 of The District Of Columbia. Once completed, the 16,000 to 20,000 Square Foot Facility will contain three separate ball fields--not only one of regulation size, but also a Little League baseball diamond and a softball field. The Academy is modeled after a Major League Baseball Sponsored Academy in Compton, California (where The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim provide some support--but did not build the facility) and The RBI Program (Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities) first started in East Harlem, New York. The Washington Nationals DC Baseball Academy will be the first of its kind built and sponsored by a Major League Baseball Team.

”We are going to provide a venue for young people to have a place they can go, play safe, in an academic environment, but one where young people can go and have fun, meet others—do fun things," said Dream Foundation President Alphonso Maldon. "And yet, have the opportunity to learn a lot of baseball skills. There is so much to be learned about baseball. We (The Dream Foundation) believe this Academy will create, for these young people, an understanding and an appreciation of baseball that many do not have right now. Baseball has been gone from DC for a very long period of time, this can only help revive the interest."

To be open year round, the facility will include Clubhouses, Offices, Training Rooms, Classrooms for Education, and will allow for indoor and outdoor baseball practice. There will be a full time staff. Academy Graduates will be eligible for Summer Internships in The Washington, DC Business Community.

Mrs. Tanenbaum believes the education part of the package is most important. “This would not be worth doing if it was ONLY ABOUT BASEBALL. This project is worthwhile because of the complete package being offered. If this was just about baseball, it might be too difficult to pull off. But, to use baseball as the carrot to bring kids in and then offer other opportunities—makes this work. And maybe, some kids might be coming in for the after school work and then get interested in baseball. Who knows, but it could work both ways.”

Currently, The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation is working with The Federal Government and The District of Columbia for use of the projected Academy site--at Ft. Dupont Park in Ward 7. “We don’t have total control over when the land is going to be transferred," Mr. Maldon told me. "We are in the process of getting the land transferred from the Federal Government to The City. We are optimistic this will take place. We are in the middle, right now, of the E.A. (Environmental Assessment) Process. This is going on right now."

Although The Washington Nationals DC Baseball Academy is scheduled to be built in Ward 7, it will be open to all Boys and Girls in the surrounding Wards 6 & 7--and most all children within the city. Eventually, The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation would like to make inroads into the surrounding suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, as well.

Alphonso Maldon: "We also believe the academy will provide a platform to improve health, nutrition and fitness. Some of the things that do not happen enough, from what we see here in the (DC) School System. We hear from people about youngsters not having enough physical fitness programs, having kids involved with physical things. This issue has certainly added to our obesity problem we have around this country. And this Academy will provide after school and summer programs. These programs will be designed to help to prepare these children so they can have a more successful future.”

I would image this will also help fill the void from broken families and mentors needed for youths today? (SBF)

“Absolutely, and not just in children’s lives today, even though children are our focus. This will provide the opportunity for organized baseball and softball programs to develop strong and independent well rounded productive members of the community. And this will give parents the opportunity to get involved with these organized programs right within their community. The Baseball Academy will be a place where parents can build support around. They can go there, get their families out there, involved in the games the children are playing. This is another whole level of support.”

Four Leagues are currently planned for The Baseball Academy:

Rookie League, Co-ed tee-ball for ages 7-8
Youth League, Co-ed baseball & softball, ages 9-12
Junior League, Boys baseball & Girls softball teams, ages 13-15
Senior League, Boys baseball & Girls softball teams, ages 16-18

But as Marla Tanenbaum reminded me--this project is not just about the on the field activities. "The need is clearly there for baseball. But, I am excited about all the after school curriculum part of the project. The possibility for doing some baseball related career work, groundskeeping, broadcasting. There will be a lot of people involved with The Nationals who will want to have a little involvement. So, I love that aspect. And I love the fact the players will want to be involved too.”

Not only the kids, but parents, teachers and volunteers will be offered opportunities to be instructors, officials, coaches and administrators of The Baseball Academy. This project is family friendly.

Imagine--Ryan Zimmerman or Chad Cordero from Our Washington Nationals showing up to give youngsters lessons on how to play the game. The many coaches for Our Washington Nationals who give up their Saturday Mornings once per month, during the season, to coach The Smithfield Youth Clinics--will now be making themselves available for The Academy as well. “We see this as an opportunity where our players and coaches can participate, in terms of helping with the clinics and serving as role models," said Mr. Maldon. "We (The Dream Foundation and The Nationals) feel this is a Win-Win opportunity for the community. A win for The Nationals. A win for the entire District of Columbia.”

Coursework will include a whole range of topics: baseball skills, character development, academic enrichment and preparing for the workforce. Mentoring and Student Support Services will also be a big part of The Washington Nationals DC Baseball Academy. A 30 day public comment period on the projected land transfer will take place this August. Once The District of Columbia Government officially receives the property at Ft. Dupont Park--then the final steps can begin to construct the new training facility and classrooms.

As optimistic as Mrs. Tanenbaum and Mr. Maldon are on this project--both believe The Washington Nationals Baseball Academy will not open before late 2009 or early 2010. “If a decision is done and we move forward with the land transfer, then it would be my hope that we could break ground early next year and maybe get done by 2009. That’s all of our hopes," believes Alphonso Maldon.

Currently, The Marketing Department for Our Washington Nationals is approaching individuals and many corporations, both big and small--to find partners, sponsors--to raise funds needed to make The Academy a winning effort. Individual Sponsorships begin at $5,000. Corporate Sponsorship runs as high as $1,000,000. You can check out additional information at The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation Website. Or call The Foundation at 202-640-7124, if you are interested in sponsorship.

For The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, moving forward with The Baseball Academy, has been a long time coming. “I am so relieved we have made tangible progress," concluded Marla Lerner Tanenbaum. " It’s great to take that first step. We hope to engage people more than from just behind the scenes—to be a little more public about what we are doing. But, there is a lot of work to do. A lot to figure out, but sometimes you just have to dive in head first and that is exactly what we are doing on this Baseball Academy.”


Anonymous said...

Can I join?
This Foundation needs more mainstream publicity

SenatorNat said...

Billy Ripken, who runs the two Ripken facilities for young baseball players in Aberdeen, MD and Mertle Beach, SC says that statistics indicate that young Americans playing baseball have dropping from 15 million to 10 million in the past 12 years, I think he says.

His goal is to help bring that figure up to 11 million (raise it by 10%). He says that those who do play do so in a more concentrated, formal way (travel teams, longer seasons, etc.) but we have virtually lost our sandlot games...One of the reasons I longed for Torii Hunter to become a National is due to his own foundation dedicated to getting facilities and logistics together to attract more inner city kids to playing the game.

Baseball is logistically harder to organize informally; plus, these days, parents are so engaged in the suburbs, at least, with the more formal aspects of childhood sports: chiefly soccer, lacrosse, swimming, gymnastics, basketball, track & field.

Baseball is sort of a lost soul as a result. Hope the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation Baseball Academy, along with others like it, may produce a bit of a revival. Otherwise, the sport essentially is going to be comprised by Hispanics, where sandlot games are still a big part of the culture, and Americans and Japanese and other Asians who have been a part of the concentrated leagues, as Ripken describes.

Trust in a field behind my house where some kids have been playing pick-up games all summer. All good.

SenatorNat said...

Myrtle Beach? I cannot spell without spell check.

Anonymous said...

SBF, excellent post especially after reading the DC Examiner today about baseball dying in DC.