07/11/2004 4:10 PM ET
MLB repairs Little League fields
Baseball groups give back to communites in need
By Christie Cowles / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- In the midst of all the All-Star festivities, Major League Baseball took time out to help some of its youngest fans. MLB, the Houston Astros and Little League Baseball took part in a ceremony at Sunnyside Park on Sunday morning to celebrate the refurbishment of two South Central Little League fields.
The fields, one at Sunnyside Park and one at nearby Nelson Park, are being renovated as a result of MLB's donation to Little League's Urban Initiative. MLB donated $250,000 to the initiative which will be spread among 11 cities, including Houston, to develop baseball and softball programs, renovate fields and train Little League volunteers.
"We are very proud to be here and be part of this project," said Tom Brasuell, vice president of community affairs for MLB. "We are just very grateful and privileged to be part of the [Houston] community, improving baseball and bringing baseball back to these types of neighborhoods and communities across the country, where it belongs."
Brasuell was joined by Marian Harper, vice president of community development for the Houston Astros; David James, director of the Urban Initiative for Little League Baseball and former Mariners All-Star and ESPN broadcaster Harold Reynolds at the ceremony. Also on hand were Anthony Flenoy, South Central Little League's co-founder and president and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of the 18th Congressional District of Texas.
James said about 450 Houston-area boys and girls, ages 5 to 12, will benefit from the renovations to the South Central Little League fields.
"This league was formed as a direct result of the Urban Initiative program," said James. "They really didn't have a place to play, so when we received the grant from Major League Baseball, we thought it was important to give them a home site, in order to create an identity in the community and a gathering point."
James was happy to see the league have an established home and begin to grow roots in the community.
"The Urban Initiative program is thrilled. This is what we want to do, to help grow Little League programs in urban communities," he said. "So we think that this is going to make a definite impact, and there's other locations in Houston and other cities across the country that we intend to help."
Sunnyside Park's field was re-graded, new sod was laid in the infield, the plumbing and electrical systems were upgraded, new outfield fencing and backstop netting was added, the bleachers were renovated and new dugout covers were added.
|Major League Baseball helped upgrade fields for South Central Little League in Houston. (Christie Cowles/MLB.com)
The field was also re-graded at Nelson Park, where mesh netting was added, the dugouts and bleachers were renovated and the plumbing and electrical systems were upgraded.
In addition, Houston Astros Pitcher Roger Clemens donated funds from the Roger Clemens Foundation for a new scoreboard at Sunnyside Park.
Flenoy was grateful for all the support South Central Little League has received.
"I'm so estatic," said Flenoy. "It's going to let our kids and parents know what a real baseball field looks like, first of all. Before we were playing on a field where the ground balls could bounce anywhere, over their head and so forth. Now we've got a level playing surface, so they can know and then train on the proper bounce of a ground ball hit to them."
Flenoy said the renovations will help increase the size of the league as well.
"From a league aspect, it will help us to recruit the younger kids, for 5 and 6-year-old tee ball, and retain our 9, 10, 11 and 12-year-old kids to continue playing," he said. "They'll see that we're not out here by ourselves -- Major League Baseball knows we're here, Little League Baseball knows we're here -- when our parents can see that, they'll see the vertical connection with our program. So for us, it's huge."
Reynolds spoke to the Little League kids and parents during the ceremony.
"This is just the beginning of great things that are going to happen here," said Reynolds. "Athletics builds character, and it builds things in your life and in your heart that are going to allow you to continue on to be great, successful people. Let's not lose sight of that. We're trying to build great young people, not just ballplayers."
Reynolds has been active in community service efforts since he played for the Mariners and has covered the Little League World Series for six years. He was happy to attend the ceremony at Sunnyside Park.
"I think it's important to show support to the black community and the efforts that Little League Baseball has been putting in, as well as Major League Baseball," Reynolds said. "Anytime you have an opportunity to give back, you should."
Reynolds recalled how exciting it was receiving uniforms donations from a Boys & Girls Club when he was playing youth baseball growing up in Oregon.
"All of a sudden my interest changed because of a uniform. I can't imagine what it would be like to have a uniform and fields like this.
"It's gonna excite them, get that little fire in their belly that there's an opportunity to play ball," Reynolds said. "You've got to feed that desire and that heart and give them some vision that what they're doing is first-class."
Christie Cowles is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.