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Nationals celebrate opening of youth baseball academy

WASHINGTON -- The dream has come true for the Nationals and many kids in the D.C. area, as the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy had its official ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday in Fort Dupont Park.

The academy is a year-round educational and athletic facility designed to provide quality after-school and summer learning programs for boys and girls in Washington neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. It is the result of a public-private partnership that includes the Nationals, the Nationals Dream Foundation, the D.C. government, Events DC, the National Park Service, and the local business and philanthropic community.

The academy uses baseball and softball as vehicles to help develop literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills, as well as healthy lifestyles through fitness, nutrition and cooking lessons in a safe, nurturing environment.

The facility features three playing fields and an 18,000-square-foot "educational clubhouse" with batting cages, classrooms, a teaching kitchen and community event space.

"It's second to none," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "I didn't attend a school as nice as this when I was a kid. These kids have the opportunity to come to a safe place after school. [It's] not only the love they are going to get, [they are going to learn baseball] and all the other things on top of that."

Principal owner Marla Lerner-Tanenbaum, the lead person in getting the academy built, was beyond elated and trying to savor the moment during the ceremony, which took place in a huge batting cage. She thanked numerous people, including Mayor Vincent Gray and her father, Nationals managing principal owner Ted Lerner.

"We've already begun the academy work. The kids have been here," Lerner-Tanenbaum said. "We have a feel for what we created, and it's really exciting."

The entire Nationals team attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, including manager Matt Williams and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. But none was happier to be there than Desmond, who is one of the academy's board of directors, and who wishes such a facility existed when he was growing up in Sarasota, Fla.

"I'm happy to be a part of this -- standing up there with people who worked hours and hours and poured their hearts into this," Desmond said. "To see the kids benefit from it ... There will be many more to come. It's a blessing, for sure.

"We are giving these kids something that no one is ever going to take away from them, whether it's cooking lessons or baseball skills or just the love of the game. There are mentors, volunteers, people around them. Some of these kids are in some dire situations, and they really need someone to put their arm around them every once in a while. That's what this place is going to be like."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats.

Washington Nationals