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Compton's UYA gets visit from HOFer Thomas

Celebrated 1B/DH offers tips to young players, commends program's initiative

JeVon Ward, a 15-year-old player at MLB's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., stopped and paid attention. The Big Hurt was giving him advice.

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"Short and sweet. Downhill. Cut that ball in half. Get that backspin on it," Hall of Fame designated hitter Frank Thomas told the young outfielder after batting practice, demonstrating with his hands how to stay behind the baseball, not wrap around it or get underneath it.

And when one of the biggest bats of his generation gives you personalized swing tips, you listen, right?

"Definitely. As soon as I hear something from someone like that, of course," said Ward, who's chosen baseball, even though his father, Reggie, played football (alongside Tim Brown) at Notre Dame. "It's really big to have a Hall of Famer come down here and talk to us. Especially me personally getting to talk to him, it's amazing. ... Frank Thomas -- great dude."

Video: MLB Play Ball

Thomas stopped by on Wednesday to watch the players work out, offer some words of wisdom and learn more about the UYA. You can see more of the Big Hurt's visit to the Urban Youth Academy on Friday, June 26, on FS1's MLB Whiparound at 7 p.m. ET.

The White Sox great left blown away by the instruction, the athletes and the UYA facilities -- the clubhouse, the training facility, the multiple fields, including the main show field. Thomas wanted to spread the word, and he promised to come back with a crew to watch the kids play in an actual game.

"We need 15-30 of these across the country -- this is impressive," Thomas said of the Academy. "I came into baseball in 1990. There were four or five black baseball players on every team. Over my 20-year career, I could see it dwindling every year. Now it's at the point that you've got one or two on each team. It's kind of weird -- and for me, it's unacceptable.

"This is a situation that has been on my mind, it's been on a lot of my ex-players' minds. Why don't we have more facilities like this?"

There are currently five academies open in the U.S., with more to come as part of MLB's Urban Youth Initiative -- which aims to increase the reach of baseball and softball in urban areas, provide a safe environment for youth to practice and play and prepare its athletes for college and professional ball. Dillon Tate -- the No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 Draft -- was a Compton Academy member, and he's just the latest notable alum.

Video: Rangers Draft pick Dillon Tate talks UYA "I was telling Frank how you start with the history of baseball," said Darrell Miller, the original director of the Academy who is now MLB's Vice President of Youth and Facility Development. "The Negro Leagues, at least for kids that are of color, is the genesis of baseball for us, really. … That's what the kids really need to know and understand. And then their place: 'This is not someone else's game, this is your game.'

"The whole idea is, I don't think kids who are underserved really thought that baseball would work -- or if they played baseball, that anyone would see them. Now they see the path -- there is a path, direct path, to either collegiate baseball, professional baseball or getting a good education."

David Adler is an associate reporter for Follow him on Twitter @_dadler.
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