The summer season has come to the Urban Youth Academy in Houston, bringing with it a host full of activities designed to heighten interest in baseball in the inner city. Hundreds of local kids will have the chance to get hands-on instruction in baseball and a leg up on attaining a college education.
The Urban Youth Academy hosted a tryout camp for the Astros and 100 local kids on Thursday, and it will see a similar workout for local colleges next Friday. There will also be a summer camp and a high school summer league at Sylvester Turner Park, a hub of the local community.
"We're trying to get baseball back into the inner city and to get people to see it as a avenue to get to college," said Daryl Wade, the manager of the Houston UYA. "We think this is going to be a success because we have a chance to work with the kids and to see them improve over time."
Wade said it's gratifying to see the way that kids have taken to the Houston academy in the last two years, and he said that the college workouts would likely draw at least 100 players.
The goal, in this case, is for players that have gone overlooked to show what they can do to professional talent evaluators. And it serves an equal benefit to colleges in that it collects a local talent pool and allows them to compare and contrast players against one another in a neutral setting.
"It's similar to what we do for the Astros," said Wade. "We give kids the opportunity to impress colleges, kids that haven't been picked up or juniors who want to get on the radar."
The summer camps at the UYA run for the next four weeks, and they cater to children as young as seven years old ranging all the way up to high school seniors. The summer league, meanwhile, is more for the older kis and will consist of 250 students from six different school districts.
Wade pointed out one local student-athlete -- a young man named Nathanial Crawford -- who has become the template for the type of kids the UYA would like to attract.
"Nathanial came in here in March, and we worked with him just to learn the game. And he just got so dedicated to it," said Wade. "He's going to be a junior this coming year, and if he can continue to stay dedicated, I think he has the makings of a college player. He's just that kind of kid."
Houston is one of three Urban Youth Academies affiliated with Major League Baseball -- the others are in Compton, CA and Puerto Rico -- and there is another facility scheduled to open in New Orleans later this summer. And if Houston is any indication, there may be many more to come.
Wade said he's seen a groundswell of interest in the academy in the local community in the last couple years, and he said that the kids involved are starting to understand what they need to do to improve. It's one thing to play in games, he said, but quite another to work on your fundamentals.
"You can't play baseball if you can't run, throw and catch," said Wade. "We do the same drills every day, and it's drills more than games. But the kids get better and notice it when they play in games."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com.