NEW ORLEANS -- In one afternoon in the St. Roch neighborhood of New Orleans, three boys -- ages 7, 8 and 16 -- were shot on the street in two different incidents. To those on the outside, and even those who live here, the common response is, "That's New Orleans."
"It's New Orleans ... that's what we have to change," said Rangers manager Ron Washington, a New Orleans native. "We have to change that statement, and that's what we are trying to do."
Washington, big league right-hander Chad Gaudin, a native of nearby Kenner, La., and a host of others were in New Orleans playing in the inaugural celebrity golf tournament benefiting the Urban Youth Academy on Monday.
The Urban Youth Academy is a program that offers year-round facilities that provide free baseball, softball and education for inner city and underserved kids. It has facilities in Compton, Calif., Houston and Puerto Rico.
In July, the newest UYA facility will open in New Orleans, located at Pontchartrain Park in the Gentilly section, not far from the St. Roch neighborhood.
"It's a target-rich environment, this is an environment that needs a UYA more than any other place in America," said Darrell Miller, vice president of youth and facility development for MLB. "The environment that we can create here in New Orleans can be so positive in such a short period of time. It's going better than any other project we've ever done. This will be the jewel of all of our academies."
The New Orleans facility will feature more than the rebuilt Wesley Barrow Stadium, which has been relatively untouched since it was damaged by Hurricane Katrina six years ago. In addition to a baseball field, softball field and T-ball field, there will be classrooms and training areas.
It's not about just playing baseball, either. According to Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball development, the New Orleans UYA will feature education on groundskeeping, coaching, scouting and even broadcasting and photography.
The after-school program will also have tutors available for kids at the UYA to get help with their classes at school.
"We're not just a baseball program. We do baseball instruction, but we will have [an] educational curriculum, a testing curriculum as well as vocational activities," Solomon said. "We try to provide avenues to achieve some sort of success when they come to the academy other than playing baseball."
Although the initial focus of the UYA was to have a program in every Major League city, New Orleans is unique as the city is still trying to rebuild following Katrina and the massive flooding in 2005.
Solomon was impressed that the people of New Orleans didn't let Katrina or the BP oil spill crush the community's hopes.
"The spirit I've seen here and the cooperation is second to none, and you cannot tell that the people have gone through the tragedies they've gone through," Solomon said. "I mean, big tragedies. Lord have mercy, to see the spirit, the smiles, the wonderment and the cooperation we've received is something."
The spirit may be there, but the resources to rebuild certain areas and communities are still in disrepair, and many residents are struggling to make ends meet. For many parents, they can't afford to send their kids to baseball camps or afford equipment.
"I've been blessed to have the equipment and the finances to play this game, and I couldn't imagine it any other way," Gaudin said. "That's why I think this is so big to me. If I looked back and, say, my parents can't take me to the park because they're both working jobs, or they don't have a car, or it's too dangerous, there are so many obstacles to get to where all I want to do is play baseball. This academy will do that."
Washington, who grew up in the Ninth Ward and played baseball at John McDonogh High School, spent his youth playing baseball and learning the life lessons baseball can teach.
"There's a lot of failures in this game, and if you can deal with failures, I think you have an opportunity to move forward in life, especially in this area, because there is a lot of failure," Washington said. "Once we get this up and running, we can see what influences we can have on young lives. That's what it's all about, because they are the future. Our future just can't be shooting each other in the neighborhood. The future needs to be established in life for the youth and their family."
Peddie's Team wins: The UYA Celebrity Golf Tournament was won by the team headed by Bruce Peddie. Peddie is the head baseball coach at the University of New Orleans, which is located less than a mile from where the new UYA facility is being built. Peddie's team of Chris Merke, Mark Murphy, Josh Tomlin and Darrah Schaefer shot a 54.
Michael Harris is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.