By Byron Kerr
Washington, D.C., February 14, 2014 - The Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, designed for elementary and middle school students in D.C., continues to put the finishing touches on the facility as it prepares for a March 3 opening at Fort Dupont Park.
There has been amazing progress at the facility and grounds since the last time we visited the site in November. Compare them to the pictures here to see the big transformation.
Executive director Tal Alter said planning for the programs, including initial after-school programs already under way at nearby Kimball Elementary, have helped formulate the potential syllabus that will be available at the facility.
"We have been taking a lot of time as a program to develop our systems and structures for how we are going to run our after-school program when we do move into the building," Alter said. "That is exciting. It is exciting to be a part of something new that can build its values and culture from scratch."
The academy is collaborating with other non-profits like Higher Achievement and Brain Food to help complete the educational programs it will administer to the kids as they learn about baseball and softball in a safe environment.
Physically, the campus is very close to being user ready, as construction workers work feverishly against bad weather conditions to place the finishing touches on the facility and grounds.
"You can see from being here there has been a lot going on," Alter said. "You can see how this building is going to function. We are a few weeks away these fields being utilized for the first time. To see it all come to fruition is going to be very exciting."
There are seven classrooms on the second floor, including the teaching kitchen with audio visual capabilities, featuring a camera that looks down on the cooking surface so students can follow along. Brain Food will help with the cooking education program every Thursday.
Also on the second floor is administrative space and an eighth room, or flex space, with floor-to-ceiling windows with great views of two of the baseball fields and panoramic views of downtown Washington, D.C.
There are plans to build a fruit and vegetable garden on the grounds of the academy.
"It is an important resource," Alter said. "This is something I have really wanted to do since we started developing the plans here. At some point in the spring, we will put this in. As with anything that involves education, developing a holistic understanding of it is really important.
"It is one thing to tell young people that these are healthy foods; it is another thing for them to own the process of putting the seed in the ground, seeing it grow, taking the fruit and vegetables from the earth and bring them into the kitchen and prepare a meal. That is going to give you a much different view of what nutrition means. Then they will understand it takes work to stay healthy but it is also well worth the effort."
On the first floor, there is a beautiful atrium lobby, a conference-style meeting room, a 4,800-square-foot multipurpose training room covered by padded turf and two retractable batting cages. The multipurpose room can hold as many as 500 people.
"We could easily have at least 100 kids divided into groups using different spaces in the room working on different skill-based drills for baseball or softball or just fitness or just having fun," Alter said. "That will be a great space for us."
There also is storage on the first floor, plenty of restrooms, a concession stand and coaches offices.
The basic setup for the academy during the school year will be an after-school program for elementary and middle school students three days a week. In the summer, they will have baseball and softball programs with academic enrichment during the day.
"We want it to be a fun and engaging summer program," Alter said.
The academy has received a lot of interest from local high schools, as well as the D.C. Grays and the Cal Ripken Collegiate Summer League. The Grays could conceivably serve as mentors for the youngsters involved in the Academy.
Other schools and teams may get an opportunity to be part of the facility, but Alter says they will have to abide by the covenants and tenets that the academy decides coincide with its overall mission of education and growth.
"When groups come in to use this facility, they will adopt the culture we are creating here holistically," Alter said. "We will have a youth baseball academy culture that people will want to be a part of, but will also, in order to make use of this space, will have to be a part of. We are going to have very high expectations."
Alter is excited about the vision they have planned for the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy and what it can mean to the communities surrounding Fort Dupont Park.
"Baseball and softball are the vehicles through which we want to enrich academic performance, develop positive, social character, develop a physical and mental well being in young people that grow with a sense of what they can become in the future," Alter explained.
"But it is all about the grounding in baseball and softball and the positive values that those sports provide. We are going to go about the process of developing that culture and making sure that this is a field and a facility that is utilized for the sport and everything it has to offer. So that the young people that are coming here are a part of that culture and the game will be in their blood."