Royals, local government team up to open a youth urban baseball academy at … – Kansas City Star (blog)

The man who transformed the Royals from punchline to American League champion is in a suite above the field at Kauffman Stadium. Dayton Moore is here to talk about a project he compares to “a fairytale,” something he’s dreamed about for years.

This is personal to him, in ways that he’ll explain in a minute. He thinks this will become personal to a lot of people. That’s the plan, and this morning the Royals and local government officials announced that millions of dollars are being invested to make that happen.

They are calling it the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy. The possibilities are incredible. On the surface, they will be teaching baseball to kids from six to 18 years old, but really, they want to be doing much more than that.

The academy is set to open next fall in the 18th and Vine District, next door to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and will aim to introduce and teach baseball, softball and life skills to as many kids as possible.

This will all be done at no cost, run by the Royals’ baseball operations department like a ninth minor league affiliate, except this one will have a higher budget than some teams and a more personal goal for Moore and many around Kansas City.

Moore calls the new project “as important as anything we do,” up to and including the performance of the major league club. The Royals will cover the operating costs — $500,000 per year to start — with no real chance of profiting except for spreading the sport throughout the city and region by making it accessible.

“It’s personal because I know if I was coming up today, I wouldn’t have the same opportunity to play baseball,” Moore says. “My economic situation as a kid, where I came from, I probably wouldn’t be playing baseball. It breaks my heart to know there are kids who would fall in love with this game who never get the opportunity.”

The $6 million start-up costs are being covered by major league baseball and state and local government. Kyle Vena, Royals director of baseball administration, said he was struck by how quickly and unanimously people got behind this project.

It fits major Sly James’ priority of creating more activities for urban youth, enhances the 18th and Vine district, and provides economic development for the city and stands as a symbol of urban investment. There is optimism that the project will be awarded some $4 million in tax credits, which are generally saved for the most worthy projects.

In the beginning, it will be four fields, ranging in size from softball to intermediate to major league, all with field turf to allow more year-round use. The second phase is the construction of an indoor facility which will house a full sized infield, batting cages, classrooms, office space, and concession stands.

The indoor facility is tentatively scheduled to open in the spring of 2017, though that could be pushed up depending on the success of a fund-raising committee that includes Moore, mayor Sly James, former U.S. Senator Kit Bond, CBIZ president Carol Watley, KCP&L CEO Terry Bassham, Carter Broadasting CEO Michael Carter, former All-Star Joe Carter, and Hall of Famer George Brett.

There is a small number of similar facilities with connections to major league teams around the country. Kansas City’s is grander in scale and ambition. It will have a higher budget, and will be the first to be run by a big league organization’s baseball operations department instead of community relations.

The Royals are partnering with the Boys and Girls Club for an emphasis on off-field programming. Some of that will be in the form of life skills, and some of it in clinics or programs to teach careers around baseball — management, groundskeeping, media, ushers, umpiring, etc. The facility will be open every day, with 26-week programs running year-round.

“The idea is to introduce baseball to every kid that we can,” Vena says.

If the academy produces professional prospects, those kids will not have any official or binding tie to the Royals. They would be subject to the draft like anyone else around the country.

But the academy will have a Royals tint, from flags around the complex to the instructors working with kids. The coaches will include Royals’ alumni, and when the team has roving instructors in town, they will often spend a day at 18th and Vine.

“This will be the Royals Way,” Vena says. “These kids will grow up learning the Royals Way.”

Moore has been involved in the planning of this for some 18 months. That includes last year’s run to the World Series, crucial to his future as the Royals’ GM, as well as this follow-up season in which the team clinched its first division championship in 30 years on Thursday.

Earlier this month, he flew to New York to the commissioner’s office. He had never been there before, but wanted to be the one to present so the commissioner would know it’s important to him and the Royals.

When caught in a reflective mood, Moore often talks about the importance of growing baseball, particularly among kids, many of whom are being priced out of playing the sport.

Moore measures the Royals’ success not just in wins, but in the connection built between team and city. Baseball has always been personal to him, and over the years he has often talked of wanting to build something for a community to rally around.

The timing for this, then, is terrific. The Royals broke their all-time attendance record this year, and by virtually any imaginable metric, baseball has never been more popular in Kansas City.

Around the country, baseball is losing ground, especially with younger fans. Maybe this academy can counteract that affect in Kansas City.

“What do we get out of it?” Moore asks. “Hopefully in 2025 and 2030, these kids are following baseball. We’re hopefully investing in the future of our game, to where there’s always a team here in Kansas City where families can go and enjoy the game, be united, and there can be joy and conversation and togetherness through baseball. That’s what we’re getting out of it.”

In a lot of ways, it’s fitting that this announcement is being made the day after the Royals clinched the division and in the lead-up to another postseason.

The excitement of the big league success is great for the Royals, for baseball, and for the city. But here, they are making a real investment and effort to build something that in most ways is more important.

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