COMPTON, Calif. — David Price stood, first on the softball field, then on the more customary baseball diamond, answering the darnedest questions Saturday morning from groups of obviously impressed kids.
How old was he when he started playing ball? (Two, his parents tell him.) What is the hardest part of the game? (Accepting failure.) How did he get better? (Working hard and having good coaches.) What did it feel like to watch Mike Trout hit that walkoff homer Thursday? (Not good, obviously.) Who is the best hitter he has faced? (Miguel Cabrera.) Does he make Dr. Dre kind of money? (Well, no …)
But by the time the Rays ace was done with a 90-minute visit to Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy, he was the one impressed, both with the facility designed to increase inner-city youth participation in baseball and the plan that doing so may result in more African-Americans playing in the majors.
"It shows me that we're going in the right direction in getting young African-Americans involved in baseball again," Price said during the 30-minute ride back to the team hotel.
"If we can get the trend going in the right direction, just getting a couple more guys in the league, there will be a couple more idols, a couple more, I guess, heroes for young African-Americans growing up. If they can see somebody that kind of resembles them on TV playing baseball, that can do wonders for the game."
Price was genuinely wowed during a tour of the academy on the El Camino College campus by director Don Buford, a former big-leaguer, noting the four fields (including one with a scoreboard and grandstand seating) and indoor facilities that include locker-, weight- and classrooms.
"That's an unbelievable facility," Price said. "They've got multiple fields, uniforms, all the equipment they need. And they're working on transportation to get them here in the summer (when school buses aren't as available). That's essentially a full ride right there."
The facility in Compton — known for extreme gang violence — has been open for eight years. With a recent surge in enrollment, it provides instruction and opportunity for around 1,900 kids — boys in baseball, girls in softball — from ages 5-18 at no charge as long as they are still in school.
MLB also has academies in Houston and New Orleans, with plans for more in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Hialeah. (See mlb.com/UrbanYouthAcademy for more info.)
Buford said a visit from "a superstar" like Price — who is biracial — is a big deal. "It's very meaningful because the young players, both the boys and girls, get to see someone who is successful and has been successful going through school and that kind of thing," Buford said. "For them to see someone like that in person, that's awesome as far as an influence for them to continue playing and wanting to play."
Price hung out first with the 12-and-under softball girls, telling them their questions were the best he'd ever gotten, then addressed more than 100 boys, showing them his pitching grips.
"It was different than I thought it was going to be," he said. "That was really cool."