A new deal now in the works between New Orleans and Major League Baseball (MLB) is shaping up to be a home run for the sport and for local youth development.
This summer, city officials announced an agreement with MLB to build a new youth baseball and softball outreach program in New Orleans. Known as the MLB Urban Youth Academy, the facility is planned for the site of the Wesley Barrow Stadium in Gentilly and would offer free, year-round programming for local children in conjunction with the city’s recreation department.
“It’s part of the rebuilding of a recreation department in this city that once was a model for the nation but had fallen into disrepair for a long time,” said City Council member Arnie Fielkow, a major proponent of the plan. “This is going to be a state-of-the-art youth athletic complex staffed by world-class personnel.”
This New Orleans center would be the fifth Urban Youth Academy in the nation and the first in a city without an MLB team. These academies aim to promote baseball among minority children. In addition to teaching the sport itself, programs offer training in areas as varied as athletic field management, talent scouting, sports journalism and public relations. Overall, a big part of the academy’s mission is encouraging teenagers to stay in school and out of trouble, which meshes with the city’s new campaign to reinvigorate its recreation department.
“Our best tool in improving our economy and reducing crime is by investing in meaningful activities for our youth,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said while promoting the Urban Youth Academy plan.
The academy would also signal new life for Wesley Barrow Stadium, which has been in tatters since Hurricane Katrina. The city now plans to spend some $5.3 million in FEMA money and other funds to convert it into the academy, which would have baseball, softball and T-ball fields. The timeline calls for construction to begin in the fall for a grand opening late in 2012.
“Having an entity like Major League Baseball put their stamp of approval on this will give a lot of people confidence and, I think, spur more investment,” said Fielkow. “This is going to be transformational.”