Hialeah and schools uniting to build our field of teen dreams
By Michael Lewis
Finally, somebody is going to bat to keep a pledge Major League Baseball made to us four years ago when we gave the Marlins a baseball stadium that's costing taxpayers almost $3 billion.
The big leagues promised to build in Miami-Dade an Urban Youth Baseball Academy to train teens in baseball and in life skills, the kind of academy that is vaulting inner-city youngsters elsewhere into professional contracts — teams drafted 30-plus academy graduates last summer alone.
Baseball promised four years ago this month that if government agreed to fund a Marlins stadium, the big leagues would in turn spend $3 million to build a youth academy and then operate it.
That academy was to open long before the Marlins stepped onto their new infield. As things stand, however, the Marlins are about to play year two at Marlins Park — so-named because it belongs to Miami-Dade County, whose name does not appear thereon — and we still haven't even got a deal for land on which to build the academy.
Baseball's inaction was equaled in county hall, which cut the $3 billion giveaway deal with the Marlins with vigor but then seemed disinterested in the only real payback: getting local teens trained, counseled and given a shot at professional baseball.
Now the star players are neither Major League Baseball nor the county. Instead, the City of Hialeah and the Miami-Dade County Public Schools have stepped to the plate to cut a deal for schools-owned land on which to build the academy.
Major League Baseball is still involved — a representative has looked at the proposed 13-acre Hialeah site — but it's the city throwing the pitches and the schools catching them.
If there is to be an urban youth academy after all, it's because Hialeah never gave up after it spent years trying to pry free land from development company Flagler and trying to get the county to push the deal forward. Major League Baseball talked about the academy but seemingly did nothing.
In January 2009, when the county and the major leagues agreed to create the academy, it was to be the nation's second, following the Compton, CA, site that opened in 2006. But while we dithered, baseball opened academies in Puerto Rico, Houston and New Orleans and planned another in Philadelphia.
We just talked — or ignored the whole thing.
Now, the schools are dealing to lease 13 acres near a middle school to Hialeah so that Major League Baseball can build an academy by plunking down $3 million — less than half of what it spent on the New Orleans academy.
Hialeah officials talk about asking the Marlins too to pitch in cash, but that's a team that insists if it isn't in a contract it owes this community nothing for its $3 billion new home — or for anything else. Don't count on the team, owned by a New Yorker, to worry about our local youth.
No, the real pitching for this youth academy deal now comes from Hialeah, with a relief stint by the school system to make a youth academy work.
In the grand scheme of things, to be sure, a youth academy would be a minor league investment in this metropolis, but keeping a promise the county and Major League Baseball made to teenagers in 2009 is a big league achievement.
Thank you, Hialeah and school officials, for keeping alive the dream of thousands of teens for years to come.
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