Jeter could turn the ultimate double play for youth academy
Written by Michael Lewis on August 29, 2017
Pray that future Marlins owners were watching when New York Mets rookie Dominic Smith homered against Miami on Aug. 19. It could be pivotal not just to baseball but to our urban future.
The impact isn’t the Marlins’ game loss or Mr. Smith’s first hit at his home park, Citi Field.
The importance is in keeping one promise of Marlins Park – which is costing taxpayers almost $3 billion including interest– by serving inner-city youth in a big way.
You see, Mr. Smith started at age 10 to attend Major League Baseball’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, CA, a facility that opened in 2006 to help inner-city kids learn about both baseball and life, giving them impetus to advance. When he joined the Mets this month at age 22 he was the ninth graduate of that academy to reach the Major Leagues, where minimum pay is $535,000 each summer.
It must have been pretty good training.
And while most of the 2,500-plus kids aged 8 to 17 who train in that academy yearly will never play pro baseball, all will have safe, organized after-school recreation while their urban community reaps the benefits of their training for adult life.
The early success of that California hub was in the minds of Major League executives and Miami-Dade leaders in 2008 when the Marlins were beseeching us to build a stadium at public expense.
After that contract’s multiple giveaways to the team, the public was to get one gift from Major League Baseball: the second Urban Youth Academy was to open here, run by the league at its expense. It’s in the stadium contract – but with no specifics.
The public was promised, however, that baseball would kick in $3.3 million and that the academy would open before Marlins Park rose.
In September the Marlins will end their fifth year in the county-owned stadium, reaping every penny of stadium revenue. We are still waiting for Miami’s Urban Youth Academy.
But Major League Baseball hadn’t forgotten the academies. While Miami waited, an academy opened in Houston in 2010. One opened in New Orleans in 2012. Cincinnati got one. One in Kansas City is rising and projected to open by October.
The league also hasn’t forgotten Miami – exactly. Miami Today called officials for years and kept being assured that an academy was coming soon, and it might cost baseball more than the league promised.
“I don’t want to limit it,” Jimmie Lee Solomon, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations, told us in 2009. “We may be looking to expand things.”
“We have had an architect already design the facility so the process is moving along,” league spokesman Steven Arocho told us in 2011.
“We’re all over this like a cheap suit,” league executive Darrell Miller told us in 2014.
As we’ve heard over the years, all an academy needs is a site, permits, a plan, operators and money and it’s set to go.
To us, that means they not only haven’t gotten to first base but they haven’t gone up to bat. In fact, they haven’t even arrived at the field.
It’s hard to convince us, however, that an organization that could bring a successful All-Star Game to Miami in July can’t even get started on a youth academy in the inner city over nine years.
We never heard a peep from the Miami Marlins themselves about the academy once they had a stadium contract in hand. They just left it to the league, which is based in New York, to do the job.
So we come to soon-to-be Marlins owners, who are taking on a franchise that has been less than a community builder. One of the newcomers’ major jobs is not just to win games but to win the minds and hearts of Miamians and even government, which now avoids doing anything more than law requires for the franchise.
We’re sure that Derek Jeter, one of the great players of his era who is to be at the team’s helm after a sale, probably this autumn, will with his partners recognize the need to totally reverse the team’s image.
The easiest and quickest fix would be to join with Major League Baseball, which will revel in an ownership change, and get this academy built, open and running.
If cash is a problem, it will be the best PR ever for the team to chip in with the league – a step present owners never took.
Mr. Jeter could show up at the academy often and talk to kids to whom he would be the ultimate role model. Image what that would do for the academy, the inner city, Miami as a whole and his own investment. It’s the ultimate win-win – and Mr. Jeter is clearly a winner.
That’s why we’re hoping his ownership group was watching Mr. Smith’s first Citi Field hit.
The youth of the black community, which is about 19% of our population, have drifted away from baseball. The league set up these academies to win that group back across the nation. Meanwhile, the academies benefit their areas in countless other ways.
The Marlins can play a key role just in going to bat for an academy. In the process, they can keep one promise of an ultra-costly stadium deal. It’s a great double play.