Fields of realized dreams in Atlanta

Braves Baseball Academy officially opens

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves, Major League Baseball and the Baseball Tomorrow Fund showed what is possible when you dream big.

What began a year ago as a simple groundbreaking -- part of the redevelopment of the Carver community in Southwest Atlanta -- became reality on Thursday afternoon, when the Atlanta Braves Baseball Academy was officially opened.

"What a glorious day to celebrate, congratulate and thank the people involved with this magnificent facility," said Bob DuPuy, president and chief operating officer of Major League Baseball. "I'm so proud that Major League Baseball can be a small part of this terrific facility. I want to thank the Atlanta Braves organization for once again stepping up and being the terrific corporate citizen and community citizen that they have been.

"I congratulate the metro Atlanta YMCA, and particularly the family villages at Carver Family YMCA, for bringing this about and making such a difference," DuPuy added. "I thank and salute the four players [Mike Hampton, Chipper Jones, Brian Jordan and John Smoltz] who are up here. These are real All-Stars -- not just on the field, but off the field. They are role models of the very best sort. And while the press tends to pick on the negative of the few, most players are terrific people, like these players, and make an enormous difference in the community. I'm proud to be associated with them."

Others in attendance included Cathy Bradley, the executive director of the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, which promotes and enhances the growth of baseball throughout the world by funding programs, field improvements and equipment purchases to encourage and maintain youth participation in baseball and softball. She joined Braves chairman and president Terry McGuirk, community leaders and sponsors, Braves players and contributors Smoltz, Jones, Jordan and Hampton and a few hundred kids from the Carver Community YMCA on Field No. 1, which is named for Smoltz.

After the Braves Heavy Hitters drum squad and the Tomahawk Dance Team provided entertainment, the unmistakeable voice of Turner Field public-address announcer Bill Bowers addressed the crowd.

"Welcome to Opening Day at the Braves Baseball Academy," Bowers said.

The bright sun and clear blue skies provided the perfect backdrop to an atmosphere already brimming with positive energy.

"It's amazing what has been accomplished in a year," said McGuirk. "I never dreamed it could be so nice. It's kind of trite to talk about corporate America giving back, but this is the kind of miracle we all appreciate."

"I was here two years ago, when they were just finishing their fundraising," said Bradley, "so it's great to see the fields just about completed.

"With the facility and the neighborhood growing, we had a good sense that this would be a great addition to this community," Bradley added. "This event with the Braves players and all the community leaders and the kids and the band is probably more than I would have expected. It's great to see that kind of enthusiasm for any baseball facility for kids."

The Braves Baseball Academy features four fields, funded by Jones, Jordan, Hampton, and Smoltz -- each of whom contributed $75,000 to the Metro Atlanta YMCA. In addition, the Atlanta Braves Foundation, the non-profit arm of the Braves that actively supports community organizations and their programs within the metro Atlanta area, contributed $500,000. The Baseball Tomorrow Fund, a collaborative initiative between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, contributed $144,352 to the academy.

In addition to the baseball fields, the academy will house two pavilions, batting cages and a playground. YMCA after-school and summer programs, such as baseball, softball and T-ball, will integrate academic enrichment and homework assistance with teamwork and character development.

Jordan tipped his hat to the community for its teamwork and commitment.

"The great thing about it is that the community stuck together and saw it through," he said. "So many people talk about what they want to do. To really see it come to fruition, it's an honor to be here today."

Smoltz also was impressed by the big dreams and the realization of them.

"You can shoot a dream down with words, but it's your heart and your desire that allows you to overcome all of that," he said. "I've been involved in a lot of these, and it takes a lot of work and effort, a lot of luck and perseverance to have it seen through. Because ideas are just that. When it comes together, it makes people feel good. I'm happy for those who have been a big part of it, and I'm just glad to be able to contribute."

The event's only complaint came from Hampton, who kidded about the dimensions of the field.

"I don't know who made these fields, but they were probably all hitters. The fences are real short," he said with a laugh. "But I am truly honored to be here. These fields are incredible."

"A lot of hard work has gone into building these fields," Chipper Jones told the kids. "You guys enjoy it. Make as much use as you can out of it, and maybe one day we'll see you in a Braves uniform."

Of course, the Braves will be back long before then. Each of the players expressed a desire to check up on the progress being made on their fields, and the development of the Villages at Carver is not over, as next year another ceremony is expected to be held for the opening of a new YMCA.

But on Thursday, the focus was on the new fields and the opportunities they present for the community's youth.

"It's the power of what the game of baseball can do," said DuPuy. "The great part about programs like this is that it's not just the competition on the field, but it's life-enriching and life-values development. Programs like this, the RBI Program, Jackie Robinson Breaking Barriers Program, all bring the game into the community and make the game the treasure that it is.

"Baseball is an enormously positive experience for people," he added. "The game is loved. It's things like this that create the next generation of fans."

For more information on the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, visit www.baseballtomorrowfund.com.

Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.