The Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy at Wesley Barrow Stadium in New Orleans' Pontchartrain Park officially reopened on Friday following a $6.5 million renovation project by MLB and the city after the original stadium was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
The academy will provide free, year-round baseball and softball instruction and other educational services for youth from underserved and urban communities throughout southern Louisiana.
"Major League Baseball is proud to stand alongside the City of New Orleans as we open the New Orleans MLB Urban Youth Academy, which will represent the national pastime's lasting contribution to the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a release. "Our newest Academy, located in one of our nation's most vibrant cities, will impact many young lives by providing significant opportunities on and off the diamond."
"The New Orleans MLB Urban Youth Academy will offer a positive and unique learning environment as it provides young people throughout southern Louisiana with a wealth of opportunities to enhance their skills and knowledge on and off the field," MLB executive vice president of baseball development Frank Robinson said. "This state-of-the-art facility will be a benefit to the local community and beyond, and will be a significant component of our effort of giving underserved and urban youth the chance to play baseball and softball. We have been honored to work with the City of New Orleans and contribute to the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort by making this dream facility at Wesley Barrow Stadium a reality."
The new Wesley Barrow Stadium replaces a 55-year-old facility that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The new facility has capacity for 650 fans, with a 200-square-foot climate-controlled press box, a public address system and new LED scoreboard. It also features administration facilities, including two 300-square-foot conference rooms where instruction can be held.
The baseball field also features professional-sized artificial turf with a clay pitcher's mound, while the tee ball and softball fields are natural turf with bleachers. Other facilities include a three-lane batting practice cage outdoors and a two-lane indoor batting practice building.
"We are extremely excited about the opening of the MLB Urban Youth Academy," New Orleans recreation development commission CEO Vic Richard said. "This collaboration with Major League Baseball is proof positive of the strength of partnerships. This project will give our children the opportunity to engage in constructive and worthwhile activities and it gets us one step closer to Mayor [Mitch] Landrieu's goal of becoming the top recreation program in the country."
The New Orleans academy is the fourth, joining ones in Compton, Calif., Houston, and Gurabo, Puerto Rico. Two others have been announced for Hialeah, Fla., and Philadelphia.
The academy in Compton, which New Orleans' is modeled after, opened in 2006 and has had more than 300 student-athletes graduate to participate in collegiate baseball and softball programs. Nearly 140 of those have been selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft, with approximately 80 signing professional contracts.
Two alumni -- Seattle's Trayvon Robinson and Toronto's Anthony Gose -- were on Major League rosters this season.
"The best tool in improving our economy and reducing crime is by investing in meaningful activities for our youth," Landrieu said. "There is no better partner than Major League Baseball to bring high quality programming to the kids of New Orleans. The new Wesley Barrow Stadium complements our redevelopment efforts in Pontchartrain Park."
Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth.