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New Orleans kicks off new Urban Youth Academy

There was elation at Wesley Barrow Stadium on Friday morning as New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu inaugurated MLB's fourth Urban Youth Academy by throwing out a first pitch.

"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."

New Orleans' MLB Urban Youth Academy will offer free year-round baseball and softball instruction for underserved and urban youths in Southern Louisiana.

In addition, educational and vocational programs will provide seminars on everything from SAT preparation to baseball-related fields like umpiring, scouting and broadcast journalism.

The Academy will also work closely with the New Orleans youth mentoring nonprofit organization Each One Save One, which will help youngsters pursue college degrees.

MLB vice president of youth and facility development Darrell Miller said the game itself is a powerful learning metaphor.

"It's the only game that teaches you about everyday living," Miller said. "It teaches you about failure. It teaches you about life. We will teach, instruct and be here for the youth of this city."

Four members of the Negro League New Orleans Black Pelicans were on hand for the inauguration ceremony, as were several youngsters who followed Landrieu's example and threw out first pitches of their own. Tre Turner, a student-athlete at Holy Cross High School -- located just a few miles east of the new stadium -- said "baseball is a major part of my life," citing the experience, exposure and positive role models he expected the Academy to offer.

Miller said operations are set to begin Dec. 1. Basic baseball and softball training will be offered six days per week. In January, the Academy will host a six-week winter league for local student-athletes to prepare for their upcoming seasons.

Executive vice president and CFO of MLB Jonathan Mariner said the New Orleans Academy can expect visits from Hall of Fame legend and MLB executive vice president of baseball development Frank Robinson, as well as from Texas Rangers manager and New Orleans native Ron Washington.

In a press release, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said the choice of New Orleans for MLB's fourth Youth Academy reflects the current vibrancy of the city, as well as its historical place in baseball.

"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," Selig said.

Landrieu characterized the Pontchartrain Park setting of Wesley Barrow Stadium as "a sacred spot in a historic neighborhood." A 55-year old stadium that once stood on the same ground as the newly renovated $6.5 million facility was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, as was much of the surrounding neighborhood.

"When Katrina hit this area of the South, we were looking to do something," Miller said. "We were lucky that the Commissioner and Jonathan Mariner said, 'Well, it doesn't fit what we're supposed to do, but it's the right thing to do and in the right place.'"

The facility includes a regulation-size baseball field, a softball field and a T-ball field. Stadium seating at the baseball field seats 650 spectators and is equipped with energy-efficient lighting. Moreover, there is a 4,000-square-foot interior batting practice facility.

Graphics lining the exterior of the stadium celebrate local icons like Washington, Rusty Staub, Will Clark and Mel Ott.

The New Orleans facility joins existing MLB Urban Academies in Compton, Calif., Houston and Puerto Rico. Initiated in 2006, the program mentored 30 players who were selected in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft alone, including Carlos Correa, the No. 1 overall pick of the Houston Astros and a participant in MLB's Academy in Puerto Rico.

The New Orleans Urban Youth Academy is MLB's first in an American city without a Major League team.

"We're not building [the city] back the way we were," Landrieu said. "We're building like it ought to have been."

Nick Stillman is a contributor to