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Nationals team with D.C. for SE youth facility

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On a day better suited for a refreshing swim, the Washington Nationals broke ground Tuesday on a project to bring the game of baseball and other life lessons to children east of the Anacostia River.

"This is about playing baseball, but it's also about making sure we're including educational outlets for kids and their families," D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown said to the dozens of people who braved Tuesday's heat at Fort Dupont Park in Southeast, where the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy is scheduled to open next year.

"This is saying yes to playing baseball but also showing [underprivileged children] what life's all about," said Mr. Brown, a Democrat.

The academy will be built on 9 acres inside the park and include playing fields for youth baseball and softball games as well as a facility that will house multiple classrooms, batting cages and locker rooms.

The project is funded by $10.2 million in construction money from the District, and $3.5 million from the Washington Nationals and its Dream Foundation. It was announced Tuesday that Major League Baseball would contribute an additional $1 million for construction.

Within the lease agreement for Nationals Park is a requirement that the team support youth baseball programs in Washington.

The academy program will be modeled after the Harlem RBI program in New York City, which in the past six years has helped more than 97 percent of its members graduate high school and sent 95 percent to college last year, according to the Nationals.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting member of Congress, spoke about D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray's talent for baseball when he was a young man and how she championed his decision "to hit the books while hitting balls."

Mr. Gray, a Democrat, said baseball "was arguably the best sport in the world" and acknowledged that it was "heartbreaking to watch the decline of youth baseball over the years."

The mayor also said he was looking forward to next year when he can return to Fort Dupont for the facility's ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Dwan Jordon, principal of John Philip Sousa Junior High School, which is around the corner from the planned academy, also is looking forward to the official opening.

"I'm hopeful this gives [children] the opportunity to be exposed to a real playing field," he said of his school's baseball and softball teams.

Gwen Grier, whose 13-year-old daughter, Monea, plays first base for Mr. Jordon's softball team, said a lot of children in the area know about different sports and they would play them if they could.

"I think this is going to be a wonderful exposure for kids to have something positive to do," she said.

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