Stan Hochman: MLB picks South Philly's Anderson rec center for Urban Youth Academy

Posted: September 21, 2010

MAJOR LEAGUE Baseball is determined to revive baseball in the inner city. Marian Anderson rec center, that's inner city.

Tomorrow, Major League Baseball will announce plans for an Urban Youth Academy at the Anderson rec center, 17th and Fitzwater, South Philadelphia. MLB will contribute in the neighborhood of $3 million, a nice neighborhood. MLB will collaborate with Philadelphia's Parks and Recreation Department and the Phillies to fund, staff and maintain the facility.

Details will be announced at a news conference hosted by the Phillies. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig won't be there, but Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president, baseball development, will congratulate Mayor Nutter on Philadelphia's selection as the first cold-weather site for an MLB-sponsored academy.

Team president Dave Montgomery and second baseman Chase Utley will represent the Phillies.

The first academy was established on a 10-acre site in Compton, Calif., and has been in operation since 2006. Another opened in Houston this year, and there are blueprints for an academy in Hialeah, Fla.

Requests for comment from the commissioner's office, the Phillies and the Parks and Recreation Department were politely declined.

It is no secret Mike DiBerardinis, commissioner of the Parks and Recreation Department, has pursued this dream for years. At one point, it seemed headed for a seldom-used skating rink in the far Northeast, but that plan was derailed by politics and some negative not-in-my-backyard squawks.

The Anderson location makes sense. It is already an oasis for 200 kids in a tough neighborhood and is a training ground for highly competitive youth teams in baseball and soccer.

"I've been asked not to comment," said Steve Bandura, the rec-center director.

That leaves a lot of questions to be answered at tomorrow's news conference. Since last winter brought 80 inches of snow to the city, there are plans to build a new gymnasium at the site, capable of housing a batting cage and an artificial turf infield.

The title says Urban Youth Academy, which means it is meant for city kids. Enrollment will be free. A significant softball program for girls is planned. The age limits are 8 to 18.

The Phillies' contribution, in terms of money and manpower, has not been set. The team will provide and maintain an additional field near the Ashburn complex, and there is talk of the Phillies' providing instructors for various clinics planned.

The bottom-line question remains: What is the academy's mission? Is it designed to produce major league players? Or is it meant to inspire kids to become major league citizens who might earn elusive college scholarships and go on to success in other fields and then, hopefully, give back to the community?

The mission statement for the Compton facility included this ambitious segment: "The MLB Urban Academy will partner with the surrounding school districts, community colleges, universities and youth organizations, to provide educational programs and classes in athletic turf maintenance, statistics, umpiring, athletic training, journalism and broadcasting. Additionally we will provide tutoring and counseling for the purpose of academic and personal development."

Will Philadelphia's academy stress the doubleplay pivot over the ability to parse a sentence? Will it require participating kids to have passing grades, to take advantage of mentoring and tutoring opportunities, to think in terms of graduating from high school and moving on to junior college or college?

Will it focus on the sizzle of baseball and softball tournaments or the steak of academic achievement?

Will corporate sponsorships be encouraged or discouraged?

Plenty of issues to be discussed after the celebratory confetti is swept off the floor.

Send e-mail to stanrhoch@comcast.net.

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