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Nats and Lerner Go to Bat

By BizNow.com

Washington, D.C., February 28, 2012
- We dropped by Nationals Park yesterday, hoping to get batting tips from Ryan Zimmerman. While there, we learned about the team's hope to combine forces with commercial real estate for its newest charitable cause, the Nats Youth Baseball Academy.

Marla Tanenbaum of the Lerner family, snapped in her office with plans for the Academy, is spearheading the initiative. It will be located in Ward 7, next to the Fort Dupont Ice Skating Rink. With the help of a $10.2M grant from Events DC and donations from private industry (more on that later), the Nationals are building a state-of-the-art baseball and educational facility that'll host a team-sponsored after-school program for disadvantaged kids. “This is unique from other MLB programs in that it's not designed to train future baseball players,” she tells us. “Our focus is on education, mentoring, and building social skills, and using sports as a way to get kids interested."

Who's ready for the first pitch? The Academy will start with a class of approximately 45 third-graders, Marla tells us, and and will add a grade every new school year. The program will probably last three to four hours after school. The principals of local elementary schools are helping to select kids for the program, which will eventually grow to include several hundred participants. “We're considering bringing in an outside partner for the educational programming to make sure it is excellent from day one," Marla says. “We want to hit the ground running.”

Marla took us on a tour of the team's locker room, showing us the lowest point in the stadium—the jacuzzi. The Academy will feature three baseball fields and a 13k SF building for classrooms, community rooms, and administrative space. “We expect to sign our agreements with the city by the end of the week and start construction this spring,” says Marla. Getting the land wasn't easy. “A lot of credit goes to Vince Gray. This is located on federal land, and as council president and later mayor, he worked through two administrations—Bush and Obama—to get the land transferred to the city.”

The team hopes to raise around $5M to create an endowment for the Academy. (It's raised $2M so far.) It also hopes to include local business leaders as part of its mentoring push—“This is a great opportunity for community service,” says Marla. The Academy opens next year; to learn more, click here.