Every day brings this project closer to reality. Major League Baseball executives Jimmie Lee Solomon and Darrell Miller conducted a walk-through at the site of the future Urban Youth Academy in New Orleans on Monday, and they were excited by the prospects of the facility.
The grandstand for the stadium field is already taking shape, and the laying of the artificial turf surface is just a week or two away. Solomon, MLB's executive vice president for baseball development, said that everything appears to be on schedule for a grand opening in July or August of this year.
"This has a chance to be one of the best projects we've done to date. We're getting bigger and better," Solomon said on Monday. "This is just going to be a breath-taking facility with a majestic field, and the scope of the project really reflects the true commitment of the city of New Orleans."
The frame for the grandstand and seating bowl have already been laid down at the facility, providing a glimpse of what everything will look like when the construction is completed. The space for the field has been measured and manicured, and work on lighting and electrical wiring has also begun.
The New Orleans facility will be the fourth Urban Youth Academy operated by Major League Baseball, following in the footsteps of projects in Puerto Rico, Compton, Calif., and Houston, Texas. But it will be the first academy with a fully functioning stadium field, a development Solomon is excited about.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the facility is the location itself. The New Orleans Urban Youth Academy will be located in Pontchartrain Park, an area of town that was heavily affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This land -- and that of neighboring Joseph M. Bartholomew Sr. Golf Course -- was underwater just a few years ago, and this project will truly be one of urban renewal.
When it's completed, the New Orleans academy will have three fields, one for softball and for tee ball in addition to the full-service stadium field. Solomon and Miller sat through a construction meeting in addition to their walk-through and came away impressed with the people involved.
"I've been through enough of these where I can tell you what they'll look like even from an embryonic concept," Solomon said. "But I have to tell you, the mayor's people in New Orleans are so very diligent, so excited and so hard working on this project. It's fantastic and really exciting."
The nascent academy will lie close to the urban locations of the University of New Orleans and Southern University at New Orleans, lending potential students and faculty to work with educational support and in mentorship programs. Solomon has seen a similar synergy work at the Houston academy, which just celebrated its second anniversary as a force in the local community.
The next academy on the horizon will be in Philadelphia, and there are plans to expand the franchise to South Florida in 2013 or 2014. There are also preliminary plans for future facilities in Cincinnati and San Francisco, but Major League Baseball is moving ahead diligently one academy at a time.
The league's existing academies have already begun producing major college players and big league draftees, and last season saw two graduates of the Compton academy -- Trayvon Robinson and Efren Navarro -- progress to the Major Leagues for the first time.
The foundation has been set in other cities, the concept malleable and adjustable for each prospective academy. Solomon said that New Orleans, with its rich history and diverse sporting culture, will make a prime proving ground for inner city youths who want to learn about baseball.
"Everything has gone so well and we just can't wait for the field to be ready," he said. "The city of New Orleans has done a tremendous job building this ballpark and we're excited for the finished product."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com.