Urban Youth Academy Golf tourney a success

By Rhett Bollinger
Updated: November 7, 2009

CITY OF INDUSTRY, Calif. — More than 150 golfers helped raise nearly $100,000 for the MLB Urban Youth Academy by participating in the fourth annual Urban Youth Academy Celebrity Golf Tournament this past Friday at Industry Hills Golf Club.

The tournament, which placed a celebrity in 37 foursomes, saw a wide range of former Major Leaguers participate, including Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Rod Carew and Eddie Murray, as well as such former All-Stars as Kenny Lofton, Tommy Davis, Al Downing, Bret Saberhagen, Dusty Baker, Kenny Landreaux and Maury Wills.

“It’s a great tournament,” said Darrell Miller, the academy’s executive director. “Frank Robinson does a great job as host, and we’ve had great support from guys like Eddie Murray and Rod Carew, so it’s just a good time.”

Robinson has hosted the tournament in each of its four years of existence, and he’ll keep doing it because of the great cause — bring baseball to the youth of the inner cities.

“I just really enjoy doing it,” Robinson said. “It’s for a very good cause. I actually think it’s for the best cause, because it’s for the young people.”

The money raised from the tournament will go directly to the Urban Youth Academy, which was created in 2006 as part of Major League Baseball’s Urban Initiative and sits on more than 15 acres of the campus of El Camino College in Compton, Calif.

The academy has thrived since its opening, as more than 2,500 young athletes have participated at the complex and many have gone on to receive college scholarships or be drafted by Major League clubs.

In fact, 21 athletes who either played or trained at the academy were selected in last June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, joining 28 others who already signed with Major League clubs from the previous three Drafts.

“The academy takes the Urban Initiative a step further by making it a year-round activity by creating a brick and mortar extension,” said Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations. “It gives us an opportunity to impact the community on an everyday basis.”

Several of the former Major Leaguers who played in the tournament spend countless hours at the complex working with young baseball and softball players.

Thus it was an easy decision for them to show their support by participating while also seeing many of their old friends, many of whom played locally for the Dodgers or Angels, both of whom helped sponsor the event.

“It’s great seeing a lot of guys I played with and against,” said former Dodgers outfielder Rudy Law. “And it’s great seeing guys I grew up watching, like Rod Carew and Frank Robinson, as well as some of the younger guys, like Kenny Lofton. So to develop friendships with them and to see them here is awesome.”

The chance to play golf also gives the former big leaguers a chance to get their competitive juices flowing once again.

“Any way to raise money for the academy is fun, but this is as good a way as any way to get started raising revenue,” said Downing, a 20-game winner with the Dodgers in 1971. “And obviously, looking around, it looks like a good turnout, which is the important thing, because it’s showing the word is out.”

So though the word is out for those who participated, others feel the academy deserves more recognition for what it brings to the greater Los Angeles area and beyond.

“I think they should get more attention that are getting, because it’s helping all types of young people, and the facility is just outstanding,” Davis said. “I think we’re going to get a lot of Major Leaguers come through that academy.”

The Compton facility will soon be joined by a Urban Youth Academy that is expected to open in early 2010 in Houston, with another planned for the Miami area. Major League Baseball has also had talks with Philadelphia, Washington, Milwaukee and Cincinnati about starting academies in those locations.

“I believe in another five years, we’ll have five or six new academies across the country,” Solomon said. “I think the academy concept is going well. I would like to have one in the shadow of every Major League ballpark, and even some of the Minor League ones, too, in large urban areas that could use a program like this.”