Trey Hill is sort of an inverse Kevin Costner, proving that if you come, they will build it. The Highland Park native moved to West Dallas with his wife and children to found Mercy Street, a mentorship-based ministry that pairs volunteers from citywide churches with area youth. For more than a decade, kids in Mercy Street’s sports programs played ball on what had become an overgrown diamond off Hampton Road. But in January, after a two-year construction project, the Texas Rangers put the finishing touches on the fields of the neighborhood’s dreams.
If you cross the Trinity River and head south, past Uplift Heights Preparatory and the Dallas Housing Authority, you can’t miss them. What used to be a mostly empty field out in front of the Lakewest Family YMCA is now a 17-acre, turf-covered wonderland with a minor league-size ballpark at its heart, named for the late Rangers manager Johnny Oates, complete with concession stands and stadium seating for 750.
Altogether there are two full-size fields and two Little League fields, plus a smaller T-ball field and neat rows of batting cages. There’s even an indoor facility with a turf infield (inscribed with Adrián Beltré’s No. 29), a fully equipped workout room, and four classrooms. If you didn’t know any better, you might think you’ve stumbled on a D1 athletic facility.
The MLB Youth Academy concept was started in 2006 in Compton, California, to provide baseball and softball instruction, rec league programs, training for college and professional play, STEM camps on the science of baseball, and educational support for urban youth. The Dallas facility is one of only eight nationwide.
Juan Garciga, the former manager of community outreach and player relations for the Miami Marlins, will direct the day-to-day operations, with coaching assistance provided by former major league players, college coaches, and college players. DISD coaches and students are encouraged to use the facilities, and Pinkston and Sunset high schools use one of the fields as their home turf (you can come watch games on Tuesday and Friday nights during the season). Starting this spring, Buckner International will provide educational programming and social work assistance. All programs are free for eligible children ages 6 to 18.
“There weren’t many recreational team sports happening here in West Dallas,” Hill says. “There’s lots of reasons for that. Recreational team sports require money for equipment, and for refs, and for the maintenance and upkeep of fields. It requires parents to coach, which requires additional time. A lot of those things—extra money, extra time—were not in abundance here in West Dallas.”
With a $14 million investment from the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation, its corporate partners, and former and current players, the Rangers have committed to maintaining and operating the facilities for the long term.
“West Dallas has always had the reputation of being a dangerous or scary place. Not true,” Hill says. “Now people come from all over the city and say, ‘Wow, this is really impressive.’ Our kids can feel good about the fact that they’re getting the best instruction in the city, playing at the best facilities in the city. I want to provide great baseball instruction. But my real interest is seeing those kids become champions in life.”