Robinson a role model as UYA success story
Urban Youth Academy in Compton 'heaven' for Mariners outfielder
SEATTLE -- Just off Highway 91 in the middle of Compton, Calif., there is a place Trayvon Robinson calls baseball heaven.
This place of enchantment is also known as the Urban Youth Academy (UYA) in South Los Angeles. It's where Robinson, the newly acquired Mariners outfielder, spent a 2009 offseason in somewhat of a baseball player's dream.
Every day, the 5-foot-10 Los Angeles native would wake up at 9 a.m. at his brother's house near the UYA. He would head over to the academy, and his morning routine would consist of working out on the field and in the weight room.
When afternoon came, training turned into teaching. Robinson, who had just been added to the Dodgers' 40-man roster at the end of the 2009 season, would spend the second part of his day instructing youngsters in after-school clinics and other camps, sharing baseball knowledge with the kids.
In between all that, there were batting cages available where he would go hit in his down time.
"Baseball all day, every day," said a smiling Robinson. "It was perfect."
For a promising then-19-year-old prospect like Robinson, who is actually the first UYA alum to make it to the big leagues, it sure sounds nice. So what exactly is this "baseball heaven," and how did it begin?
In 2006, Major League Baseball opened its first Youth Baseball Academy in Compton as part of its Urban Youth Initiative. The purpose was to create a complex similar to baseball academies in Latin America, where kids could learn about and play baseball as much as they wanted -- all for free.
"The idea was to create a facility in the U.S. to attract the inner-city kids to continue to be involved in the game of baseball," said Ike Hampton, director at the Compton UYA.
Working as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and funded by Major League Baseball, the result was impressive. On the grounds of El Camino College are 10 acres that provide space for two regulation-size baseball fields -- including one that has a scoreboard with a 200-capacity grandstand, dugouts and lights -- a softball field, a youth field, batting cages, pitching mounds and a 12,000-square-foot clubhouse with a weight room, locker room and other training facilities.
"They had a real, real awesome setup," Robinson said of the $10 million facility.
One of the special things about the grand complex is its location in the inner city. It's no secret that baseball is an expensive sport; basketball only requires a ball and hoop, while football needs pigskin and a couple buddies.
|"It gives these kids hope. They are starting to see how other people are reaping the benefits. If you are willing to be persistent, willing to put in the time, willing to work hard -- they are starting to see good things happen. It's a huge incentive for these kids."|
|-- Compton UYA director Ike Hampton, on Trayvon Robinson's success|
"That's the reason why, in the inner city, they don't play baseball as much," Robinson said of the money. "Baseball gets expensive, and you can't ask for anything better than the UYA. They provide so many things."
"These kids are very fortunate that there is a facility that's right here in their own backyard," Hampton added. "It allows them the opportunity to just come out and get instruction and have a facility that's as nice as this. They are able to go out and play the game that they love to play."
And the program, which also helps kids prepare for life outside of the diamond and provides educational opportunities in broadcasting, umpiring, groundskeeping and turf maintenance, is producing professional talent.
There were 11 UYA graduates drafted in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, and some 50 or more graduates from the Compton facility alone have played professionally. There is another academy in Houston, and the league plans to build more in South Florida, Philadelphia and New Orleans.
"You can definitely see the results, because we're having more kids that are getting interested, and we've had quite a few kids that have been drafted to MLB clubs," Hampton said. "We've also had lots of kids that have gone on to play in junior college or Division-I, where they probably wouldn't have gotten that opportunity had it not been for the opportunity that's been given to them and allowing them to have a complex like this."
But Robinson is in his own league. He's the first guy from the Compton UYA to make it to the top, and his path is the ultimate success story that can result from a program like the UYA.
At just 23 years old, the Mariners rookie is already serving as a role model. Doug Takaragawa, an instructor and coordinator at UYA who has been there since its inception in 2006, says kids can relate to Robinson because he's so close in age and because of the similar struggles and challenges encountered growing up in those same neighborhoods.
"He really gives them a real close view of what it takes and also the adversities that you will be experiencing and how to handle them," Takaragawa said. "He's been really, really helpful in that respect. He's very transparent. He tells it like it is."
Robinson's success up the ladder to the big leagues is almost immeasurable.
"It gives these kids hope," Hampton said. "They are starting to see how other people are reaping the benefits. If you are willing to be persistent, willing to put in the time, willing to work hard -- they are starting to see good things happen. It's a huge incentive for these kids."
Robinson isn't just making those at the UYA proud, he's making Seattle fans excited, too. In his first MLB game on Aug. 5 in Anaheim, the rookie made a ridiculous catch over the left-field wall to rob Torii Hunter of a home run, and then hit his first home run one day later at Angel Stadium, less than 30 minutes from where he grew up.
But the humble Crenshaw High School graduate isn't letting the MLB spotlight cover his roots. After the 2011 season is over, a return to "baseball heaven" is in order.
"It would be awesome after the season to cruise by there and see if I can talk to some kids," Robinson said. "I'll be trying to get to the UYA just to go back and know that I made it to the big leagues and have that motivation for younger kids that want to be a professional baseball player. I can't ask for anything better than that."
Taylor Soper is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.