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06/30/07 11:26 PM ET
Padres join Urban Academy clinic
Players and coaches on hand at MLB's inner-city facility
By John Klima / Special to MLB.com
COMPTON, Calif. -- Padres manager Bud Black got a 50th birthday cake on the infield grass of the Major League Baseball Urban Academy. Everyone in attendance had the same wish. The Padres and the staff of MLB's Urban Youth Academy joined together on Saturday afternoon to lead a clinic for 225 kids ages 8-17, showcasing progress, development and enthusiasm for supporting baseball's initiative to spread baseball in the inner city and grow the game at the grassroots level. "Over the years, all of us in the game have heard about the academy," said Black, who was visiting for the first time. "Being here in person outweighed the vision of what I saw in my mind. My visions were surpassed. It's a great facility. The fields are kept up. I can see work being put in along the complex, which shows a genuine commitment to what Major League Baseball is trying to do." Black brought help. Padres outfielder Mike Cameron, as well as players Kevin Kouzmanoff, Terrmel Sledge, Cla Meredith and Justin Hampson, coaches Bobby Meachman, Darren Balsley and Craig Colbert. Also on hand were Hall of Fame member and Padres vice president and senior advisor Dave Winfield and chief executive officer Sandy Alderson, who initiated the Urban Academy concept along with MLB's Jimmie Lee Solomon several years ago. Black played with academy director Darrell Miller when the two were teammates on a college summer league team. Miller was thankful to the Padres for sharing their time while the club was in Los Angeles. He smiled as he watched the interaction between Cameron and the kids, who hurried between stations designed to apply drills for hitting, infield defense, outfield defense and pitching. "It's a big thing for a kid to be able to go home and say, 'Hey, Mom, today I met Mike Cameron,'" Miller said. "Then when he's playing on TV, all of a sudden you start following his stats, all of a sudden you take an interest, all of a sudden you emulate the swing, all of a sudden you see somebody who plays every day. You can take the older guys who played, and that's great, but you can't go home and watch us play tonight. I think it's important that the kids see today's players, because they're outstanding role models." It's about positive role models as well as the cooperation between many areas of the game, Winfield said. He believes there are many sophisticated facets to developing players from the inner city and agrees that the Urban Academy is one important means to an end. He's been a frequent visitor to the academy and an ambassador for the Padres, who Winfield said, have contributed sums in the five figures to help the academy realize its goals. "We've donated to them," Winfield said. "I hosted their golf tournament. Doing this clinic is another thing. It means a lot to the Padres and it means a lot to me." In turn, the winners are the young players. The academy recently had five players chosen in the First-Year Player Draft. The facility has become a mandatory stop for scouts. "We want these players, because we want to get them to the next level, whether it's someone advanced or someone just starting out," said Carl Nichols, the academy's director of instruction, who coached the academy's 19-and-under team against a visiting Australian all-star team later in the day. "Once kids see that, they want to be here. We get a lot of kids asking questions, which is what we like. You bring in the Padres on a day like this and it helps kids see that it's all about the kid getting better as a player and getting to the next level." Black sensed that the players believe in the system. "What I've been impressed with is the look in the eyes of the players here," Black said. "They're listening. They're thirsty for knowledge. You can tell it's a very positive experience." Winfield is an amateur photographer. He brought his camera bag with him and snapped photos for his collection. Miller likes to say that, "Dave is like grass and water; he's everywhere. He covers two-thirds of the Earth." His presence and support is part of the Padres' pledge to help the academy succeed. Alderson was also pleased to visit the academy. He, too, was snapping photographs. "Having Sandy Alderson here, who was the impetus with Jimmie Lee Solomon to start this program, is great," Miller said. "He's been part of the vision since its exception. He's been carrying the torch and [Winfield] as well, who has a passion for inner-city kids. They understand our plan and our goal to help kids who have not had the opportunities to play baseball." The wish is that some of these kids on the field on Saturday will grow up to play in the Major Leagues. Maybe some will become All-Stars. Perhaps the day will come, many years from now, when the academy produces a player from the inner city who becomes a role model himself and reaches the Hall of Fame, and can say that he got his start on the green fields of Compton.
John Klima is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.