02/05/11 10:00 AM EST
Hampton happy to run 'oasis' for youths
Director of UYA rediscovered baseball through coaching
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
"An oasis in the desert," is what he calls Major League Baseball's first Urban Youth Academy, a vibrant, state-of-the-art facility located in Compton, one of the roughest parts of California.
When MLB first launched its UYA initiative, beginning with the West coast in 2006, the mission was to offer free, year-round baseball and baseball-related instruction to the demographics that needed them most.
Hampton's description simply means the Compton UYA is serving its purpose.
"This was something that I never had when I grew up," Darrell Miller, the venue's manager of operations, said. "I grew up in South Carolina, with budget cuts and with parks and recreation not being able to maintain the facilities and the field the way they would like. What Major League Baseball has done to help these kids and get them involved and get them back into the game, I'm very honored and proud to be a proud of the whole process."
Hampton's involvement happened rather unexpectedly.
Originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Mets in 1970, Hampton spent parts of six seasons -- five with the then-California Angels -- as a big league catcher, appearing in 113 games until walking away from the game after the 1980 season.
Hampton, admittedly bitter he wasn't able to have a more prolonged career, essentially turned a blind eye to baseball shortly thereafter and landed a job with UPS, where he wound up working for 28 years.
Then about four years ago, Hampton ran into Miller, who was heading up the new Compton UYA at the time, during an Angels alumni function. Miller, too, was a catcher for the Angels. But he didn't arrive onto the scene until 1984.
And when he did, all he kept hearing about was a former player named Ike Hampton.
"Everybody said, 'You remind me of Ike Hampton. You guys hit the same, you're both nice guys, blah-blah-blah,'" said Miller, who spent five seasons (224 games) in the Majors while also playing the outfield and first base. "I was like, 'Who is this guy?'"
Finally, roughly 20 years later, Miller found out and the two hit it off, so much so that Miller invited him to visit the facility and help out as an instructor one weekend.
Hampton took him up on his offer. Then he did it again -- and again and again and again.
"Before you knew it, pretty much all my free time ended up being time spent at this academy," he said. "That was my passion, and I really enjoyed being around the kids and helping them develop."
In April 2010, MLB's second UYA opened in Houston, putting Miller in more of a national role and opening a spot for a new managing director at one of the finest baseball academies in the country -- an "oasis in the desert," if you will.
Hampton -- Miller's carbon copy, according to many -- was a shoo-in.
"He understands what our mission is," Miller said. "He volunteered part-time on the weekends and really got it. It wasn't like we had to retrain or re-teach the Academy way. It made it really convenient to have Ike involved."
The feeling was mutual, apparently.
"I enjoy being around the kids," Hampton said, "so for me it was the perfect fit."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and 'The Show', and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.