THEY ARE GOING to build a baseball academy at the Marian Anderson rec center. They said so on Sept. 22. They just didn't say when.
And now, almost 8 months later, nothing. Not a cute photo of dignitaries wearing hard hats, gripping shovels, breaking ground. Not a backhoe, a tractor, a bulldozer at work. Nothing.
Hey, it could be worse. They announced an Urban Youth Academy for Hialeah, Fla., in January 2009 and 28 months later, all they have is a set of blueprints gathering dust.
You can send a sympathy card to Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina after they start construction at 17th and Fitzwater. But first, why has it taken so long to get started here?
Major League Baseball says it never had a definite timetable, and, besides, we had a rough winter, weatherwise.
The Phillies say it's not that the project is late getting started, it's just that the announcement came too early.
The attorney handling the bidding process says it's complicated when you have this many partners in a project.
"There's nothing sinister involved," said Dave Montgomery, the Phillies president. "The road is paved with good intentions."
Yikes. It's the road to hell that is paved with good intentions. We're talking about an academy that will teach baseball skills while offering tutoring and academic help to ease the path toward college scholarships.
The Phillies have pledged help in maintaining the "show" field planned for FDR Park, and personnel to conduct clinics. They are also responsible for any cost overruns on the project.
"We might take some of the blame for pushing up the announcement," Montgomery said. "We wanted a player there and Ut [Chase Utley] was there."
That was nice, but a kid from Penn Charter wound up stealing the show. Demetrius Jennings talked about his love for the game, his years of playing ball at Anderson, about coming back to mentor kids after he gets his medical degree.
Will the Academy be up and running before Jennings gets his degree?
After a week of prompting, Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball development, answered some questions by email.
"Since there was no timetable," Solomon wrote, "we can neither claim to being on time, ahead of schedule, nor admit to being delayed. In addition to our diligent planning, weather has played a factor in our ability to move things along at a quicker pace."
That is pure nonsense. We could have had a tropical heat wave in December and it would not have impacted the start of construction. First, you have to put the project out for bids, and that can be done even if you're up to your armpits in snow. Is the nearly $3 million from MLB, Baseball Tomorrow, the city and state still there?
"The money," Solomon wrote, "that was allocated for the Urban Youth Academy is still available and has remained unchanged."
That's good news in the light of the new governor's cost-cutting approach, in the light of Philadelphia's slashing of school funds, in the light of an economy still struggling.
Maybe we can just blame it on the lawyers? Mike DiBerardinis, the Parks and Recreation commissioner, who is gung-ho for building the academy, has been on vacation and unavailable for comment.
Ed Fagan, a city attorney, in charge of special grants projects, pointed to the complicated financing.
"It's been like a pingpong ball, going back and forth," Fagan said. "There's the complexity of the financing, so many different partners.
"All of the site surveying has been done, all the practicality studies have been done. We thought it could be handled as a design-and-build project. It turns out there has to be four-part bidding, design is one component, construction is another.
"We were hoping to have the field in the Ashburn complex ready for play this summer. The money is still there."
So, once the t's are crossed and the i's dotted, and ground broken, how long before kids are playing ball?
"Once we have our construction team in place," Solomon wrote, "we'll develop a timeline for completion that will be agreed upon by the bid winner and all contributing parties."
Solomon said construction on the first academy, in Compton, Calif., was started in June 2004. It opened in March 2006.
Steve Bandura, director at Anderson, keeps busy with plans.
"The kids are excited, the families are excited," Bandura said. "I'm asked about it, every day.
"We've talked to people who will run the education side, the SAT prep. And we've talked to people who will handle the strength and agility training. Meanwhile, we're just waiting and waiting."
And what about those kids in Hialeah, the ones who have started shaving since the project was announced? Solomon wrote: "The proposed Academy in Hialeah was not stand alone, it was part of a huge project that suffered when the recession hit nationwide a couple of years ago. We will get it back on track at the appropriate time. Our money to build this Academy is also still allocated." *