COMPTON, Calif. -- More than 500 student-athletes who have come through the MLB Youth Academies have gone on to participate in college baseball and softball programs. More than 160 have been drafted by MLB clubs, including last year's No. 2 overall pick Hunter Greene, the No. 22 overall prospect per
COMPTON, Calif. -- More than 500 student-athletes who have come through the MLB Youth Academies have gone on to participate in college baseball and softball programs. More than 160 have been drafted by MLB clubs, including last year's No. 2 overall pick Hunter Greene, the No. 22 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline. And a number of them -- like the Yankees' Aaron Hicks, the Orioles' Dillon Tate, the Mets' Dominic Smith, the A's Khris Davis and the Phillies' J.P. Crawford and Vince Velasquez -- have gone on to reach the big leagues.
Seven more student-athletes joined those ranks Saturday and were recognized at the MLB Compton Youth Academy as they committed to play on the college level on National Signing Day.
Millikan High School softball player Maya De Sota (Cottey College) and six prep baseball players -- Christian Lara of Walnut High School (Hope International University) and Damone Hale (Michigan), Mahki Backstrom (Frenso State), Jordan Brown (Fresno State), Jashia Morrisey (Cal State Bakersfield) and Kelvin Bender (UC Santa Barbara) of Serra High School -- were on hand to sign their national letters of intent in front of family, friends and academy staff.
"This academy has really groomed me from a really young age, so to be able to be here, signing for college, it means everything to me," De Sota said.
"[Playing in college] has been my dream since I first strapped on the cleats," Backstrom said. "I want to thank everybody who's helped me get here, all the amazing people who have helped me through my journey."
Academy members Gabe Briones (USC) and Tyler Attal (Bates College) also earned baseball scholarships, but they were not in attendance, and a parallel event was held at the New Orleans academy for Damon Fountain (Tulane University), Antoine Harris (University of New Orleans), Will Spear (University of Arkansas-Little Rock), Mike Mims (Grambling State) and softball player Kiri Parker (Alcorn State University).
"To see all these kids getting to that next level because of this place, it's amazing," said Bree Simpson, the first academy alumna to sign a softball scholarship (Concordia University) who is now serving as its softball coordinator. "It warms my heart."
The MLB Youth Academies aim to provide free baseball and softball instruction in addition to educational and sports-related vocational programming to underprivileged children who may not otherwise have access to the kind of services, equipment and facilities provided by MLB. Off-the-field programs include SAT/ACT prep, tutoring, academic counseling, science of baseball, sports law and broadcasting classes and homework assistance.
"It had an impact on me growing up in the inner city," said Hale, who's from nearby Inglewood. "I was just in my backyard and I really didn't have enough space. I would either just hit off a net or I would go throw a ball at the wall and let it just bounce back. And being able to come here and being able to use this resource, it's like a gift from God."
The Compton facility, located on the Compton College campus, has done more than provide opportunities to the talented student-athletes who committed on Saturday to playing collegiate ball. It's become a fixture in the community and has provided support and what many of the players called a family to the thousands of athletes who have taken the field there since it opened in 2006.
"Compton has always been a sports haven, but when the academy came here it was a chance to get back on track," said Harold Tyler, Hale's grandfather and a former director of student activities at El Camino College in Torrence, the school that assumed control of Compton College's operations when it lost its accreditation for nearly 12 years. He credits MLB vice president for youth and facility development Darrell Miller and the academy's impact on the community for helping Compton College rebuild its brand and get its accreditation restored in 2017.
"All of our kids were starting to leave [Compton] and go to other schools and become great athletes, but they weren't in their own community," Tyler said. "Most of the time they'd say [they're from] L.A., and they wouldn't say Compton. Now they say Compton. That's a big thing."
Many of the soon-to-be collegiate athletes described the academy as a family, one that's been key to their development from an early age. The facility serves kids as young as 6 years old and continues to support them even beyond high school.
Now more than a decade old, the Compton academy has a wide-reaching alumni base and a culture of giving back, with current and former Major Leaguers a consistent presence and many alumni contributing as coaches and staff, like Simpson, who said Miller's infectious attitude has been key to establishing that culture.
"His heart is so big, it just rubs off on you," she said.
Several academy alumni and other MLB stars are coming together Monday for a celebrity golf fundraiser in Newport Beach, Calif., that benefits the Compton academy. Former MLB All-Stars Torii Hunter and Gary Matthews Jr. will co-host the event with many other marquee names scheduled to attend.
"When you've been given a lot, we're all responsible to do what people did for us," said Miller, the academy's director. "If we look back behind us and reach back and get one more person, then all of a sudden we have a flood of people doing the right thing the right way for the right reason."
The Compton facility is one of eight academies built by MLB with others in Cincinnati, Dallas, Gurabo (Puerto Rico), Houston, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and three more in development in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Miller lauded Commissioner Rob Manfred's commitment to expanding MLB's youth outreach and said the goal is to keep bringing the facilities to communities in need.
"In the inner city, a lot of kids don't get a chance to play baseball, so to provide the opportunity for the kids here, at no cost, is really impactful," said Del Matthews, MLB's senior director for baseball development, and Gary Matthews Jr.'s brother. "We're producing Major League citizens. If it helps kids to stay in school, if it helps them to keep their focus on the straight-and-narrow path, we're doing our part."
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.