Big-time stars align for Compton Community Day
Visit from Puig highlights MLB Urban Youth Academy's second annual event
COMPTON, Calif. -- Pitchers and catchers are a few days from reporting to Spring Training, but at the MLB Urban Youth Academy, baseball is a year-round proposition.
The academy kicked off Black History Month in style Saturday, with its second annual Compton Community Day that included a 90-minute visit from Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig -- the thrill of the day for many of the youngsters in attendance.
Frank Robinson, Hall of Famer and MLB Vice President of Baseball Development, headed the long list of dignitaries, which included fellow former big leaguers Don Buford, Tommy Davis, Kenny Landreaux, Darrell Miller, Tim Leary and Brian Barton; Angels first baseman Efren Navarro (a product of the academy); renowned Dodgers scout Mike Brito (who signed Fernando Valenzuela); and Blue Jays scout (and former Dodgers general manager) Dan Evans; along with numerous civic and community leaders.
Sterling "Steelo" Brim, co-host of MTV's "Ridiculousness," was another popular figure among the kids. Jessica Childress, a contestant on NBC's "The Voice," sang the national anthem before the afternoon junior college game between Compton and Fullerton. An All-Star softball game took place on an adjacent field.
The 8-year-old academy has produced 100 players who have been selected in the Draft, including two first-rounders last summer -- Dominic Smith (11th overall, Mets) and J.P. Crawford (16th, Phillies) --and has sent more than 300 players on to college baseball.
The day's highlight clearly was the visit by Puig, who posed for photos and exchanged high-fives with the youth players. A similar visit last year by Major League outfielders Matt Kemp and Juan Pierre also left a lasting impression, said Rocky Gholson, who is in charge of educational development at the Urban Youth Academy.
In meeting Puig, Gholson said, the children were able to make a dream into a reality.
"We tell them, this is your chance to touch your dream," he said. "Now, it's gone from being a dream to something you can actually see.
"It plants a seed that usually doesn't get planted. Our job is to water that seed and give it a chance to grow."
Buford, Robinson's teammate with the Orioles, is the manager of the Compton facility, which he describes as "a safe place to learn baseball skills and to play in competititive games.
"But the key thing is they're learning better life skills that will last them a lifetime."
Buford said the community day was the brainchild of Robinson, who was inducted into Cooperstown in 1982.
"I'm very proud of the job that has been done at this facility," Robinson said. "Don Buford has done a tremendous job with the facility, and I'm proud of him.
"I didn't have to ask him twice [to take the job]. He's a go-getter, and he gets things done."
Robinson also praised the work by Miller, now MLB Vice President of Youth and Facility Development.
"Darrell Miller has been here since the beginning," Robinson said. "He's been through the good years and the bad years, and now he's responsible for developing other academys across the country."
Robinson said he "was proud of the City of Compton, for doing what they said couldn't be done." He also pointed out that "every day here is Community Day."