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Washington Nationals’ Youth Baseball Academy hosts outdoor holiday event

Annual gift distribution takes place in the southeast quadrant of Washington for about 100 scholar-athletes in the program ...

WASHINGTON – There has not been a lot of Major League Baseball news the past few days, thanks mostly to the lockout that began less than two weeks ago.

Teams are allowed to make moves with players who were not on major league rosters to end 2021, and the Nationals took advantage of that in recent days to sign veteran infielders Dee Strange-Gordon and Maikel Franco.

There was good news of a different kind coming out of the Washington Nationals’ Youth Baseball Academy here on Monday in southeast Washington.

The academy hosted its annual holiday gift exchange and members of the staff handed out presents to those that take part in after-school and youth baseball programs.

“This is a longstanding partnership with the law firm of Mintz, to exchange gifts with the scholar-athletes in the program,” Tal Alter, the CEO of Nationals Philanthropies, told Federal Baseball during the event Monday while standing outside in the academy parking lot.

“It is a way for us to celebrate the holidays and to make sure the scholar-athletes know how much they mean to us.”

Alter admitted the past two holidays have stressed youth and adults, due to the pandemic.

“It has been a challenging couple of years for all of us,” Alter said. “Young people have been affected maybe not as much as older people as far as (physical) health, but in terms of mental wellness and the ability to socialize with mentors, coaches, let alone their peers. That has been significantly limited. We have done everything we can to safely stay open, and have as many programs as possible outside as far as health and safety protocols have allowed us. It is impossible to say it hasn’t affected us.”

In light of the pandemic, the event was once again a drive-through format to make sure health and safety protocols were followed.

In the days previous, scholar-athletes made a wish list for gifts while the local Mintz law firm purchased a gift for each individual.

Kelly Decerbo, the director of marketing for Nationals Philanthropies, said the event Monday was of the drive-through variety for the second year in a row.

“It is a way to celebrate the holidays,” she said. “It has been a challenging couple of years for all of us.”

About 100 scholar-athletes were able to receive gifts, with most of them in grades 3-8.

According to Nationals, “The Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy is the signature program of Nationals Philanthropies, the official charitable arm of the Washington Nationals. Conceived as part of a public-private partnership between the District government and Major League Baseball in the deal that brought the Nationals to Washington, D.C., the Academy operates out of a state-of-the-art, nine-acre education and recreation campus constructed in the Fort Dupont Park neighborhood in Ward 7. Through a holistic youth development program – including academic enrichment, physical activity, and health education – the Academy imparts a lasting impact on the lives of school-age children living east of the Anacostia River.”

Nationals fans, last month, helped come up with more than 300 produce bags to help fund the academy’s farmers market to help provide 2,400 meals.

Academy staff sent out 200 turkeys and produce as part of a fourth annual event.

Alter stressed the need of fans of the Nationals to be involved with the charitable endeavors of the club as well.

“Nationals fans are a big part of what we do here,” he said. “We run something very unique here ... that uses the great sport of baseball to help the kids in this community that might not have opportunities like all children do. Whatever Nationals fans can do to support us, we are extremely grateful.”

There were no Washington players on hand Monday, but Teddy of Racing Presidents fame was there. First baseman Josh Bell was the player ambassador for the youth academy last year, following in the footsteps of former Nationals’ infielders Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon.

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