by EVELYN WONG
The road to success isn’t smooth. It’s filled with curve balls, strike outs and uneven playing fields.
But it rarely entails stopping at the side of the road on a cross country bus ride, striking the conversation with Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner that sent Schurr alumna Danielle Lugo on a home run to forge the next generation of sports industry leaders from a devout minority.
Amidst a city notorious for its prolific gang violence and staggering poverty rates, in the stadium of El Camino Compton College, the cheers and laughter of young baseball and softball players drown out the rumbling of car engines as they zip across the street. Here, the players are dodging a different kind of danger.
And it’s coming from Lugo at the pitcher’s mound in the form of a straight-line pass to second base.
Photo courtesy of DANIELLE LUGO
Beginning her career as a softball instructor at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, the flagship center of a nationwide Major League Baseball (MLB) non-profit organization that opened in 2006, Lugo is now the program’s administrator of its youth organization, the Dodgers Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Program.
“Our program is seen as a great equalizer for kids whose parents cannot afford to pay for private lessons,” said Lugo. “We offer educational and vocational support, workouts and host games at our facility for free.”
Having played softball as a pitcher and first baseman at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD, the NCAA Division I athlete found her niche in teaching softball during a casual but fortuitous conversation with O’Conner en route to the MLB Diversity Summit’s closing ceremony. According to Lugo, a nearby woman associated with the Academy invited her to work with the organization after learning that she had been raised in East Los Angeles.
“I’ve had a passion for softball since I was 6 years old,” Lugo explained. “I was very fortunate to be able to combine my love of working with kids with my love of being a part of the baseball and softball community.”
As a year-round training facility, the Urban Youth Academy invites current and former MLB players to work with the young athletes, who range from 5 to 18 years old in Lugo’s division. Players are provided with full uniforms, visors and bats, lifting the pressure from underprivileged families.
The center also offers programs such as the Great Breakout Series, which showcases top high school athletes from regions such as Compton and New Orleans to professional scouts and collegiate recruiters for baseball and softball.
“Many of these youth players are able to keep their minds off of family problems–to my excitement–by staying out of trouble and enjoying their time on the field,” Lugo said. “It’s surreal to walk out on the field and seeing these kids smiling, because that’s when I know I did my job.”
In the past four years, 46 Academy alumni have found positions in the First-Year Player Drafts in the MLB, with 160 drafts overall, including the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Trayce Thompson and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Jeremy Martinez.
Celebrities and families of MLB players assist in donating equipment and providing support at local events. However, according to Lugo, the best aspect of working with the Urban Youth Academy is inspiring its athletes to achieve their dreams.
“We’re not training Major League Baseball players,” said Lugo. “We’re training future Major League Baseball citizens.”
As she continues to provide a pipeline with the Major League Baseball exposing young players to vocational and scholarship opportunities in the baseball and softball community, Lugo finds great satisfaction in training more youth and opening roads to success.
“I found myself and my passion while working with the MLB, something I never dreamed of,” she said. “By being a part of the community and inspiring great kids, we’re molding the next generation right here in Compton.”