It would be an oversimplification to say the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy will just be a place to play baseball.
Darwin Pennye, the academy’s director, is thinking much bigger than that. On Thursday, Pennye gave a tour of the facility, which is set for a grand opening on March 30, 2018, the day after the Royals’ season opener.
There are four outdoor fields of various sizes, an indoor regulation major-league size infield with bases that can move between 60 and 90 feet away, as well as batting cages and pitching mounds at the site in the 18th & Vine Jazz District.
Pennye said that softball is also a big focus.
“It’s important for us, because softball right now doesn’t exist in the urban core of Kansas City,” he said. “None of our five inner-city high schools have teams that they field right now, so for us to come alongside of them and to start girls from the grassroots ... to have opportunities that may extend into college and to put them in a position to have success on the field, we feel like that’s a great opportunity for us.”
The Urban Youth Academy received a softball pitching machine on Thursday as part of a gift from Wyatt Benteman, a Blue Valley Northwest High School student who collected money and equipment as part of his Eagle Scout project. Benteman had been collecting donations since the end of September, and people had given him gloves, bats, balls, bags and more.
Benteman, 16, no longer plays baseball, but hoped to one day return to the Urban Youth Academy, and that’s just what Pennye hopes many kids will do.
The facility has training room and will employee a full-time trainer, but college students working toward a degree will have the opportunity to get real-world experience at the academy. There are two classrooms that will used to teach about careers around baseball.
Pennye envisions a day, perhaps a decade from now, when fans will come to Kauffman Stadium and see Urban Youth Academy graduates play for the Royals (or another team), while others are working as umpires, accountants, lawyers, journalists, broadcasters or in marketing or IT.
“We’re taking a very holistic approach to it, because we know the difficulties that go along with trying to become a Major League Baseball player, a Division I-level baseball or softball player, just an elite-level amateur,” Pennye said. “Everybody doesn’t have the same amount of talent, but we do feel like everybody can produce the same amount of work ethic, so we want to expose them to careers that exist in and around sport, if they so choose.”