Ex-Red Satterwhite finds niche at Urban Youth Academy
Ohio native never made it to Majors, but now offers kids shot to succeed in baseball, life
CINCINNATI -- On a recent weekday evening, former Reds Minor League outfielder Cameron Satterwhite is sitting on a bucket inside an indoor batting cage flipping one toss after another to a hitter.
The hitter is 15-year-old Elijah Fegan, a participant at the P&G MLB Urban Youth Academy in Roselawn, a northern section of Cincinnati's city limits.
"Relax. Nice hard ground ball," Satterwhite says in an easy tone before one flip.
Fegan obliges and the familiar ping of an aluminum bat striking the baseball and the ball skipping off the artificial turf rings out. After several minutes, Fegan takes his final cut and Satterwhite provides some encouragement while walking out of the cage with the boy.
"Good. Perfect. Good job," Satterwhite says.
Whether he knows it or not, Fegan is a rarity among kids of his age and background. Through its youth baseball programs like RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), the Reds Community Fund draws hundreds of kids ages 5-18 from the urban areas to tee ball, baseball and softball. But it's the older kids -- those 13-18 -- that have been among the toughest to either reach or keep interested in participating in local competitive baseball programs.
"When you look at the inner city and the 10-, 11-year-old teams, you might have 30-40 teams," explained Bill Daggy, the Reds' Urban Youth Academy director. "When they move to 12, 13 years old, maybe it goes down to 11, 12 or 13 teams. And when you move up to 14 and 15, it'll be one or two teams. We really see 13 as that drop-off age. When they get to 13, it's hard to find opportunities to play."
As assistant director of P&G Urban Youth Academy, it's Satterwhite's mission to help foster those opportunities. A personable and engaging 27-year-old, Satterwhite is a product of Cincinnati and, specifically, Roselawn. Even if he didn't reach the Major Leagues, he is a success story. As a high schooler, he played baseball at Moeller -- the Catholic school known for turning out superstars like Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin. Satterwhite went on to the University of Cincinnati and was signed by the Reds as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
By 2011, Satterwhite was released by the Reds at the end of Spring Training, and his playing career was done. But another career in baseball would soon begin.
"The Reds' loss was the Urban Youth Academy's gain," Daggy said.
"I actually grew up about two minutes from here," Satterwhite said. "I grew up playing on these fields. My first baseball game was actually on these fields. Just having that connection and being able to come back to my roots and work with kids that want something and don't necessarily know how to get what they want, it was a connection for me."
Less than 10 percent of Major League Baseball's players are African-American, a trend the league is trying to reverse. It has invested millions of dollars worth of funding for community outreach, baseball programs and marketing, and built four MLB Urban Youth Academies -- with more on the way.
Cincinnati's was academy No. 4, and it opened a year ahead of schedule in August at the Roselawn Sports Complex. A spectacular $7.5 million project with four outdoor playing fields that resemble those at big league Spring Training complexes, there is also a 33,000-square-foot indoor facility that features a turf infield, batting cages, pitching tunnels, a weight room, classrooms and offices.
The ambition is not just to create and mold baseball players from the inner city, but also provide kids with tools that can help them be successful in any walk of life.
"I would say the most rewarding part is seeing kids who did not necessarily believe in themselves, start believing in themselves," Satterwhite said. "And then actually accomplish what they wanted to do.
"Baseball teaches you so much about life, because it's so much about failure. A lot of folks can't handle the 0-for-10's and things like that. In baseball, if you go 3-for-10, you're a Hall of Famer. You have to deal with failure in this game of life."
While the blueprints for the academy can only include what it takes to design and build the place, it takes individuals to make it actually function and work. And that's where people like Satterwhite come in. Not only does he lead large groups in instructional sessions, he also does 1-on-1 work with kids in the cages. There are about 100 older kids in the program, with programming happening four days a week.
On a lofted area overlooking the playing field resides the weight room where the academy has found some positive results. Satterwhite oversees the weightlifting and training programs for the 13-18 year olds, which is offered to teens in the community and Cincinnati public schools.
"To be able to have a strength coach who teaches that and to have a program where you can do that with the various machines is kind of rare," Satterwhite said. "We wanted to bring that here to be able to offer that to the CPS schools. They've really taken advantage of it."
The executive director of the Reds Community Fund, Charley Frank, has watched the Urban Youth Academy's participant numbers skyrocket since the move from the previous building at the former Clark Montessori School to the new facility. Frank has been thrilled with seeing more teenagers sticking with the programs they started in as younger kids, and he credits Satterwhite for encouraging them to stay.
"Baseball traditionally has a very difficult time staying in touch with the boys once they reach the adolescence," Frank said. "Cameron Satterwhite has really taken on the challenge of connecting with the boys. They follow him like a pied piper. He's been able to recruit and maintain a program that's based on strength and conditioning, but has us much more connected with the older boys than we've been before. Anyone in the industry would tell you that is one of our ongoing challenges."
"You need to have some role models," Daggy said. "Look at him. They can see 'I can do something. I can be successful.' Cam is a great role model."
Why has the weightlifting, specifically, been working well?
"There's a little camaraderie amongst the kids," Satterwhite replied. "We have certified trainers teaching, and they do a good job connecting with the kids. I think the overall building of their physique, taking your shirt off and feeling good about yourself when looking in the mirror is kind of helping the overall program. A lot of the kids are starting to see some of the results and they are sold completely.
"I've had some parents talk to me and saying, 'I can't get my son to keep his shirt on in the house anymore.' You know that's a good sign. We have kids going down to the batting cages saying, 'I feel like the ball is really coming off of my bat.' It's been a win-win."
There are players who, because of a lack of transportation or other realities, aren't able to get to the academy. Some walk for up to 40 minutes to be able to participate. A few might walk over around 3 p.m. when there is still daylight and hang around all night to play and catch a ride home with somebody that's leaving.
Satterwhite loves seeing the dedication from the kids.
"I'll have a coach come in who coached them in high school say, 'You have no idea what you're doing for this kid. This kid was always in trouble or this and that. We were on the verge of doing this. Now, he's a completely different person,'" Satterwhite said. "Hearing those kinds of stories makes everything worth it."
On a board near the indoor facility entrance are photos of four kids that have come through the Reds academy since it opened at its old facility in 2009. In 2014, MLB's RBI program awarded 12 $5,000 scholarships nationwide to deserving kids. Two of the winners came from Cincinnati.
"Build it and they will come. Build it, get a few success stories and they'll come faster," Daggy said.
Satterwhite and the Urban Youth Academy's coaches will be waiting for them when they're ready to play.