Hialeah, Major League Baseball set to play ball on youth baseball academy
By Risa Polansky
A youth baseball academy is set to go up on Hialeah land once considered for a Marlins ballpark. But whether the academy is built could hinge on approval of a Little Havana stadium.
Major League Baseball and Hialeah officials were to this week sign a memorandum of understanding for the youth training complex on about 20 acres of the 60-acre property west of Interstate 75 and just east of Florida's Turnpike.
It is to include fields, batting cages, grandstands, a weight room, locker rooms, a clubhouse and office space for training young players as well as aspiring umpires, groundskeepers, stadium managers and other baseball professionals.
Major League Baseball is to build the project and provide for events such as tournaments and player-led clinics. Hialeah is to donate the land and run day-to-day operations.
"It will be a baseball academy, it will be a tourism attraction… it will be a vocational facility — it serves many different purposes," Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina said.
The idea is to provide opportunity to local youth, athletically inclined or otherwise, said Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball.
"There are so many vocations in our sport," he said.
Talk of the facility began in 2007, when Hialeah struck out trying to lure the Marlins to the lakeside parcel.
When officials began looking to downtown Miami instead, Mr. Robaina pitched the Hialeah site for Major League Baseball's second youth baseball academy. The first, the Urban Youth Academy, opened in 2006 in Compton, CA.
Construction on the Hialeah facility should probably begin next year, Mr. Robaina said.
"This is a way of Major League Baseball saying "we appreciate the fact this community has stepped up and has endorsed having the Marlins here.'"
The Marlins ballpark is now slated for the old Orange Bowl site in Little Havana.
But the $515 million retractable-roof stadium project has been slow to take off, and some speculate it may not have enough county commission support. Litigation has also threatened it.
Should the stadium die, it could jeopardize the Hialeah youth facility.
Asked whether the projects are connected, Mr. Solomon said "the short answer to that is yes."
He said he is unsure whether the memorandum Major League Baseball and Hialeah were to sign this week would specify one project would be contingent upon the other. But "if a stadium is not built, it could put a chilling effect on moving forward with both of these."
Mayor Robaina said "we have not really discussed that… we're hoping everything moves forward… obviously, if there's not a Major League Baseball [team] here, it creates a problem."
The preliminary stadium agreement signed early last year says "the team shall endeavor to maximize benefits for youth and other residents of South Florida… and rebuilding youth baseball infrastructure through Major League Baseball's various affiliated charitable organizations and programs."
The youth academy and stadium projects are seen as "symbiotic," Mr. Solomon said. "One lives with and breathes with the other."
But, "I would be very, very surprised, No. 1, that a stadium doesn't get built."