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Reds' involvement helping amateur baseball thrive

CINCINNATI -- Not only is Cincinnati the birthplace of professional baseball, it has cultivated generations of amateur baseball talent that has risen through the ranks to become Major Leaguers. Local legends like Pete Rose, Don Zimmer, Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr. are just some examples.

While most aspiring players won't reach legendary status, there is no shortage of avenues of teams and places to play. Regardless of the level of team, the Reds have a large presence in amateur baseball in the area.

"I think what makes us unique is we really have connections to virtually every layer of amateur baseball here," said Charley Frank, the executive director of the Reds Community Fund. "From college to high school to RBI and select to tee ball and coach pitch in the neighborhoods, we've invested not only dollars but in relationships. We have a lot of very strong partnerships in the region."

The crown jewel of the Reds' involvement is the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy, which opened in 2014. The $7.5 million facility has four outdoor playing fields and a 33,000-square-foot indoor space that features a turf infield, batting cages, pitching tunnels, weight room, classrooms and offices. It serves players -- boys and girls -- from age 5-18.

The UYA was a culmination of years of investments in teams, community field renovations and programming events by the Reds.

"The exclamation point on the importance to our ownership and the franchise is the Urban Youth Academy," Frank said. "You could argue that there aren't any other professional sports teams that have invested $7.5 million for the sole purpose of community and amateur play."

Other examples of the Reds' involvement in amateur baseball include:

• The Skyline Chili Reds Futures High School Showcase featured 70 teams from Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky in games from March 28-April 24. Six teams were invited to play games at Great American Ball Park. All of the teams also paraded on the field before Sunday's Reds vs. Cubs game.

• The Reds have had a relationship with Cincinnati Public Schools and have provided support for its several varsity baseball and softball teams since 2008.

• The Reds do community makeover days each season to renovate a youth baseball field and its surrounding park area. South Cumminsville neighborhood in Cincinnati was the 2014 winner.

• The Reds support the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program. It provides baseball and softball opportunities for boys and girls age 5-18.

• The Reds also supported the Miracle League, which provides opportunities for individuals with disabilities to play baseball, regardless of their abilities.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
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