HOUSTON – Swinging the bat, running the bases and honing their agility and footwork all are important skills for the kids learning to play baseball and softball at the Houston Astros Youth Academy at Sylvester Turner Park in Acres Homes.
Started in 2010, it was the second Major League Baseball Academy created to draw kids from urban neighborhoods back to the sport of baseball.
"In the urban communities there's not always a lot of greenspace. We have lots of it here," said the academy's director Daryl Wade. "We have 25 acres here where kids are able to come out and utilize their talent and be taught by some good coaches."
The program attracts kids like 10-year-old Kameron Gourley, who one day wants to play for the Astros as a pitcher, first baseman and outfielder.
"I like the coaching, because it teaches you like step-by-step," Kameron said. "So if you want to go to the Major League Baseball you can be ready for it."
And there's 12-year-old Destine Brown who wants to play professional softball and baseball one day. Destine said there's plenty of room for other kids who want to learn.
"I just want them to stand up, ask their parents can they be at the academy," Destine said. "So they can join me and my team."
Just this past year, 19 students who trained at the academy signed to play baseball or softball in college. Directors said it's a combination of the instruction and support from the Astros organization.
"From the owner on down, we've had them out here and they really respect our program and give a lot back to our program," Wade said. "I can't tell you a player that's probably on the team right now that has not been out here."
Wade said they realize not every child who trains at the academy is going to go on to play in college or the majors, but that's not the goal. The goal is to teach them to focus on academics, the fundamentals of baseball and softball and sportsmanship. They also want to the kids to learn there are other jobs in Major League Baseball besides the role of a player.
"I try to tell our young kids, 'You know you're in the door. Go down the hall because there's other opportunities down the hall besides just playing the game,'" Wade said.
There are youth academies in six other cities besides Houston.