Astros Bring The Game To Acres Homes

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Major League Baseball, the Astros, and Mayor Bill White unveiled plans today for the Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy, which will be built on the north side of town in the Acres Homes community on Sylvester Turner Park.

The academy will include a show field with room for around 2,300 fans, two Little League fields, batting cages, and 1,500 square feet of facilities. It'll be the third of its kind, the first being in Compton, CA; the academy aims to lower high-school delinquency and vitalize the community by giving the youth in this low-income area some constructive opportunities -- like playing baseball.

For those who can't make it to the batting plate without tripping over their own feet, or get nailed in the noggin every time they attempt to catch the ball, the academy offers positions outside the usual benchwarmer/water boy categories.

Senior director of the MLB Urban Youth Academy and former MLB pro, Darrell Miller, tells Hair Balls they're going to teach the kids everything from how to mow the lawn, to announcing and doing the play-by-play, to interviewing people (like I am). The idea, he said, is to reveal to kids, employment opportunities in baseball even if they aren't destined to be a ball-smashing spotlight stealer.

"You can actually play baseball, or participate in our great game in a myriad of different areas," he said.

Organizers hope to improve upon the local high-school graduation rate, Miller says, through the "Don't make the grade, don't get to play" stratagem.

"[At the academy in Compton,] we had to make it very evident that you had to pay attention to your school work. You have to participate in the educational elements we offer or it is not going to work out," he says.

In addition to the mayor, State Rep. Sylvester Turner, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Astros owner Drayton McLane all took turns at the podium.

Both White and Lee invoked Obama in their speeches. "We are going to put bats, balls, and gloves into the hands of young people, so that they can understand the words 'Yes, we can,'" Lee said.

Drayton McLane tells Hair Balls that the Astros have agreed to manage and finance the operation and maintenance of the academy for the next ten years. Some former MLB players, such as Bob Watson, Jimmy Wynn and Larry Dierker will come out to coach at the academy and perhaps even some current Astros players will make an appearance during the off-season, he says. 

The $1.8 million cost will be divided equally between the city, MLB and the Astros.

The Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy should be fully operational by end of this year, Miller said.

-- Thomas Rundle

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