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Renovated Clemente Park ready for Youth Academy

@mattkellyMLB
June 7, 2019

Youth baseball and softball players in New York City have a beautiful new place to hit, catch and run this summer -- and the location’s namesake could hardly be more inspirational. New York city and state officials unveiled two synthetic turf baseball diamonds and a renovated natural turf diamond Thursday

Youth baseball and softball players in New York City have a beautiful new place to hit, catch and run this summer -- and the location’s namesake could hardly be more inspirational.

New York city and state officials unveiled two synthetic turf baseball diamonds and a renovated natural turf diamond Thursday as part of the redesigned Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx -- the oldest state park in the city. The park will also host a new MLB Youth Academy named in Clemente’s honor. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds, MLB Players Association director of player operations Leonor Colon and Chris Marinak, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of strategy, technology and innovation, were all on hand to unveil the $100 million renovations to the park, which was renamed after the Hall of Famer Clemente in after his tragic passing in a plane crash while he was delivering relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve 1972. It is the largest single investment that Cuomo’s office has made to any park since the governor took office.

“I bet you a lot of new ballplayers are going to be coming from these fields,” Cuomo said Thursday. “This is powerful that [the park] is named for Roberto Clemente, who was a phenomenal athlete, a beautiful ballplayer and great to Puerto Rico. But there was another side of Roberto Clemente. He passed away at 38 years old because he was also a beautiful humanitarian.

“It was a powerful example of, yes, an extraordinary athlete, but also a beautiful person who cared about people.”

The new ballfields were in large part the result of a partnership between Major League Baseball and the MLBPA’s Youth Development Foundation, along with an investment from former Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, made in conjunction with Governor Cuomo’s office that created sparkling new facilities for local up-and-comers to play the national pastime. The renovated ballfields are expected to serve at least 1,500 youth in the Bronx, tripling the number currently participating in the park’s baseball programs. The new fields will be part of the MLB Youth Academy network, which also features facilities in various parts of the U.S. including Compton, Calif., Houston, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Dallas, Kansas City and Puerto Rico.

“It’s a huge win for the home team,” said Rich Berlin, executive director of DREAM, the Harlem chapter of MLB's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program, “not just our DREAM kids but the entire South Bronx community that we serve. This is a great community park and the centerpiece of the first New York City baseball academy program. We’ve got some amazing ballplayers here, but even more, some amazing kids. To be standing here in Roberto Clemente’s shadow is a great honor for everybody.”

Young ballplayers in the Bronx couldn’t have any better example to look up to than Clemente, whose legacy derives as much from his off-the-field contributions as his prodigious talent on the diamond.

“To have it named after a great ballplayer but also a magnificent humanitarian,” said Diaz, “a Puerto Rican, and to have young black and Latino players learning how to play baseball so they can be the future players of MLB, it’s collecting the dots and connecting them so that we can have a better future.

“For many of us, [Clemente] is the Jackie Robinson for Latino players,” Diaz added. “His legacy is one that if you give one of our kids an opportunity, they will excel in sports and any other field -- but he’s also the example of giving back.”

Interested parents and youth athletes can sign up for DREAM at wearedream.org, or visit the academy’s new headquarters at the revitalized Roberto Clemente State Park.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.