COMPTON, Calif. — Standing at the edge of the baseball field on the third-base side, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred had a prime spot to watch Sunday’s All-Star Commissioner’s Cup action.
At the Compton Youth Academy, where MLB’s movement to revive baseball in urban communities began in 2006, Manfred watched under-17 teams from Houston and Kansas City face off while wearing uniforms similar to their Major League club affiliates.
Manfred also took time on a busy All-Star weekend to watch action on the north side of the Compton complex, where the Jennie Finch Classic softball tournament was in full swing.
A total of 10 baseball and 10 softball academy teams, representing MLB’s wide swath of youth academies across the country, are facing off through Monday in separate tournaments. It is the first time the All-Star Commissioner’s Cup and the Jennie Finch Classic have been held during All-Star week since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“One of the things that was hardest for us in terms of the pandemic was the limitations on our programming in the youth space,” Manfred said Sunday amid the shouts and sounds of a nearby softball game. “I think what you’re seeing here is a celebration of the fact that we’re back and we’re in full swing.”
In addition to teams representing the Astros and Royals, other teams on hand were from academies representing the Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals. There was also the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy, DREAM RBI from the Bronx and Harlem, N.Y., the MLB Development Program in Puerto Rico as well as the hometown representative from Compton.
.@MLB_YA in Compton, CA celebrated the launch of @MLB All Star Week with the opening ceremony of the All-Star Commissioner’s Cup and Jennie Finch Classic presented by ARM & HAMMER💪⚾️🥎— Play Ball (@PlayBall) July 15, 2022
Tons of fun and opportunities to participate in Pitch, Hit, and Run and Jr. Home Run Derby‼️ pic.twitter.com/QKzcX8dExx
The significance of the tournaments returning this past week in the Los Angeles area following a lengthy postponement was not lost on Manfred.
“L.A. has been fantastic as a host to the All-Star Game, but I think it’s an added benefit to be back to the place where our academy program really started,” Manfred said.
MLB’s chief baseball development officer Tony Reagins knows how much value the Compton academy has. A former general manager of the Los Angeles Angels, Reagins is a Southern California native, having grown up in the Coachella Valley.
“It’s really important that we give the kids who attend our academies across the country the opportunity to experience playing during All-Star Week and within the festivities that surround it,” Reagins said. “It’s the first time some of these kids have been on an airplane or been in a hotel away from home, so to be able to give them that experience and kind of pay it forward is awesome.”
When the Compton Youth Academy began in 2005, the concept was to be a beacon of light in the community. Under academy director Darrell Miller, a Major Leaguer for five seasons with the former California Angels, it established itself as the example for which all other academies were based.
“I think all of us that are involved in our youth efforts have a special place in our heart for Compton because it was the first one, it was really groundbreaking and the association with our office and Compton has always been special,” Manfred said. “We learned a lot here. We made some mistakes, we got some things right and one of the key things is to have the club directly involved with the academy and that became the pattern going forward.”
While there is always the possibility that the academies can help a young player start their way toward a professional baseball career, providing a sense of community and purpose has always been the primary goal.
“We talk about aspiring to not only be a Major League player, but always being a Major League citizen,” Reagins said. “That is important because a lot of times some of these kids are surrounded by some really tough circumstances. To be able to provide a safe haven is huge.”