Youth academies compete in Compton tournament – ​​Daily News

They’ve come from cities near and far — to play ball.

Youngsters and teens from Major League Baseball youth academies nationwide have gathered in Compton this weekend for baseball and softball tournaments that are part of MLB All-Star Week.

The games were set to begin in earnest on Friday, June 15. But first, the tournaments had to be christened, with the opening ceremony taking place on Thursday evening.

The ritual included speeches from David James, vice president of Baseball & Softball Development for MLB, and Andrés De La Peza, chief program officer for the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.

But perhaps the biggest highlight of the evening was the ceremonial first pitch, an honor that went to a living legend.

Jennie Finch, an Olympic gold medal softball player and former professional ace pitcher, formally kicked off the youth tournaments by hurling the first pitch — underhanded, of course.

Finch, in fact, is the namesake of this weekend’s softball tournament: the Jennie Finch Classic presented by ARM & HAMMER.

Youth academies from 10 cities — as far away as the Bronx, in New York City, and as close as hometown Compton — will compete in that tournament.

The Commissioner’s Cup will feature baseball teams from youth academies in 10 cities, including one from Puerto Rico.

Compton’s MLB Urban Youth Academy will also field a baseball team in that tournament.

The Los Angeles County city has the distinction of being the first to host an MLB Urban Youth Academy, which the pro baseball league launched in 2006.

The not-for-profit organization “aims to set the standard for baseball and softball instruction, teach and educate in Urban America,” according to MLB’s website, “and enhance the quality of life in the surrounding communities.”

Since its inception in Compton, the MLB Urban Youth Academy has spread to major cities in nearly every region of the US, including in Chicago, Kansas City, Missouri, and Washington, DC — and even New Orleans, which does not boast a pro team.

One of the goals of the youth academies, according to MLB, is to grow baseball and softball while also “cultivating diversity in all aspects of the game.”

As such, MLB has set up the academies in metropolises that are ethnically diverse.

About 69% of Compton’s population, for example, is Latino and nearly 28% is Black, according to the most recent US census data.

Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American ball players represented 38% of those on MLB rosters on opening day this year, according to the league.

And while that’s a slight increase from last year, the percentage of Black players was 7.2% — continuing a long decline.

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