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Watson celebrated with youth outreach center

Longtime baseball figure honored with educational center at Astros' Youth Academy
MLB.com @alysonfooter

HOUSTON -- Bob Watson's life and career were celebrated in grand style on Friday, with the announcement that soon, a facility dedicated to educating young people will bear his name.

Toward the end of 2018, the Bob Watson Educational Center will open at the Astros Youth Academy in Houston, adding another sparkling element to a spacious facility that has welcomed thousands of kids over the past eight years.

HOUSTON -- Bob Watson's life and career were celebrated in grand style on Friday, with the announcement that soon, a facility dedicated to educating young people will bear his name.

Toward the end of 2018, the Bob Watson Educational Center will open at the Astros Youth Academy in Houston, adding another sparkling element to a spacious facility that has welcomed thousands of kids over the past eight years.

"I am thoroughly honored and pleased to have my name associated with an educational center," Watson said. "Education, you can't take it from me, and education is our future, especially for the young people that were here today."

The educational center will provide even more guidance for young people who have benefitted from the academy since it opened its doors in 2010. Dedicated to providing baseball and softball instruction while teaching and educating urban youth and enhancing the quality of life in the community, the academy will soon have a neighboring building that will focus on providing the necessary tools to help young people obtain a quality and thorough education.

"I tell everybody: education is the key," Houston mayor Sylvester Turner said. "Education, education, education. That's what's happening at this academy. More than 10,000 youth are coming through on an annual basis year-round -- free instruction, free play, building character, building individuals. More than 22 people last year received scholarships. It does make a huge, huge difference."

The Bob Watson Educational Center will offer extensive tutoring, specialized classes, life-skills training and help to prepare for SATs and ACTs.

"The sky's the limit," said Twila Carter, executive director of the Astros Foundation and Community Relations.

Putting Watson's name on the building is a fitting tribute for a longtime baseball figure who made history during his distinguished career. Most notably, he became the Astros' first African-American general manager in 1994. Two years later, with the Yankees, Watson became the first African-American GM to win a World Series title.

Watson was also heavily involved with operating the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), which assists members of the baseball family who have come upon hard times and are in need of financial help. Watson spent his final years in baseball working for the Commissioner's Office, acting as the "czar" of discipline.

Friday's announcement drew a large crowd that included Watson's wife, Carol, his children and several of his former teammates and colleagues: Jose Cruz, J.R. Richard, Art Howe, Jim Wynn and Scipio Spinks. Also in attendance were Astros owner Jim Crane and team president Reid Ryan, MLB educational consultant Sharon Robinson and students from Harris Academy.

"When you look in here, you can see a place where kids can go, be safe, have a good time and learn some things about life and baseball," Crane said. Speaking to Watson directly, Crane added: "You set a lot of things up to open up doors and help other minorities succeed in the baseball world, which we're continuing to work on. We appreciate your leadership. We're honored to build this in your name."

Watson, who has been battling stage 4 kidney disease for several years, reflected on his own childhood, remembering a field he used to play on while growing up in an impoverished area of Los Angeles.

"There was a park a block away," he said. "I spent a ton of time at the park. We didn't have a facility like this, but it was a place to go. It was a safe place.

"This facility, to have the Bob Watson Educational Center, it's fantastic. These young people here, they'll have the opportunity to further their education in a safe environment. I'm just proud to be involved in it."

And he hopes kids will find the same inspiration he did as a youth playing pickup games and imagining something bigger and better.

"They have an opportunity to be what they want to be," Watson said. "They can reach for their dreams, reach for the stars. All they have to do is want it."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Houston Astros