Fundraising complete for top-caliber Urban Youth Baseball Academy in KC

Construction started last April on new ball fields for Kansas City’s Urban Youth Baseball Academy. Fundraising is now complete for a building on the site near 18th and Vine, and the project should be done late this fall.
Construction started last April on new ball fields for Kansas City’s Urban Youth Baseball Academy. Fundraising is now complete for a building on the site near 18th and Vine, and the project should be done late this fall.

The Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball have raised the money needed for a state-of-the-art training facility at the Urban Youth Academy, and the entire project near 18th and Vine should be finished late this fall.

Construction is well underway in Parade Park on the outdoor baseball and softball fields designed to attract more urban youth, both boys and girls, to the sports.

But until additional millions of dollars were raised, construction could not begin on the actual building that will provide a year-round Major League Baseball academy for young people to learn all aspects of baseball as a sport and business. All classes, activities and equipment will be free, funded by the Royals and other donors, to ensure that cost isn’t a deterrent to participation.

Now that fundraising is complete, the entire project should be finished by September or October, officials told a public gathering this week at the Gregg Klice Community Center. In fact, the project has grown from $14 million to $19 million because of additional dollars raised.

“It’s exciting to think we’ve gotten there,” 3rd District City Councilman Jermaine Reed said of the successful fundraising drive. Reed represents the council district where Parade Park is located, just north of the 18th and Vine Jazz District.

Mayor Sly James, a big booster for the project, also confirmed completion of the fundraising work.

“The money is there,” he said.

A private event to thank the donors is planned Wednesday evening at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Officials with the Royals said more information on the fundraising won’t be released publicly until later this week, after that event. They also did not want any announcement about the baseball academy to interfere with Tuesday’s funeral services for Yordano Ventura.

Kansas City’s new urban baseball academy is among nine such facilities either operating or in development in the United States. Kansas City’s facility has been a dream of Royals general manager Dayton Moore for several years.

Construction started last April, and planners late last year had talked about opening the academy fields this July. That schedule now has been pushed back a few months to make way for the building.

Weather permitting, the plan now is to complete the fields by sometime in September, so play can begin on them this year. The building could be finished by late October, again, weather permitting.

Justin Cox, an architect with Populous, told the Gregg Klice audience that the complex will have two regulation-sized baseball fields, with synthetic turf and seating for several hundred people. It will have a third field for Little League Play and a fourth regulation-sized softball field. It will also have a perimeter walking trail that at certain points will be elevated above the fields so the activity there is more visible to walkers. The trail will be about three-quarters of a mile, replacing a trail that was one-third of a mile.

The area will also have two new basketball courts, relocated and renovated tennis courts, and a playground relocated near the community center.

The multipurpose building will have within its walls a full-sized infield that will be a replica of the Kauffman Stadium infield. It will also have batting tunnels, batting cages and other training facilities, as well as classrooms and other instructional spaces. The intent is to teach young people, ages 6 to 18, not just the skills to play baseball but to provide an introduction to a wide variety of sports careers.

Darwin Pennye is the newly hired academy director and will be moving to Kansas City from Texas. He played five seasons as a pro, in the minor leagues, before leaving for a career as a coach and athletic director.

While the facility is likely to be very attractive to suburban children and families, parents and children at Gregg Klice were assured that steps will be taken to make sure city kids get to register and take full advantage of the academy’s opportunities.

Reed said discussions are underway about creative registration options for kids from the neighborhood and urban core to get high priority for academy spots. About 800 to 1,000 kids are expected to participate in its events on an annual basis.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley