City Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, Boys & Girls Clubs of SA CEO Angie Mock, and Steve Salem and Irvin Bisnov of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, and __ help Boys & Girls club members break ground on a new athletic facility on the Eastside. Credit: Courtesy / IBC Bank

Two days before baseball’s season opener, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred on Tuesday morning joined the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Antonio at the agency’s Eastside Clubhouse to break ground on a $1.6 million, multisport complex.

When complete in August, the complex will feature baseball and soccer fields, a volleyball and basketball court, and a walking trail next door to the club that serves youth through a variety of after-school and summer programs.

“It will be a state-of-the-art, first-class, multipurpose field,” said Angie Mock, CEO of the local Boys & Girls Clubs. “It’s not just going to be the nicest park on the Eastside, it’s going to be one of the nicest parks in the city of San Antonio.”

Mock said the Eastside club serves more than 1,000 children per year in a part of town where officials estimate that more than 5,000 children are considered at-risk. Almost half of the area population is black and 40 percent is Hispanic. Twenty-seven percent of all children live in poverty.

“If you drive around the Eastside, you’ll be hard-pressed to find really nice, well-lit outdoor recreation spaces for kids,” Mock said. “The beauty of having it at the Boys & Girls Clubs is we’re right there. We don’t have to get kids on a bus to go. And it’s going to be a game changer for the community as well.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs have raised a total of $900,000 over four years for the complex. The Baseball Tomorrow Fund, a joint initiative between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association to promote and support youth participation in the sport, recently contributed $147,000 toward building the complex.

Construction starts April 2 and will make this the third Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation Youth Development Park in the state, joining others in Austin and Houston.

Following the groundbreaking, Manfred was the featured guest at a “San Antonio Conversations” luncheon, along with U.S. Rep. Roger Williams (R-Austin), a former minor league player who is coach of the Republican Congressional Baseball team.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred (center).
San Antonio Conversations moderated by Texas Tribune Evan Smith (left) with Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred (center) and U.S. Congressman Roger Williams. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The “San Antonio Conversations” series is co-produced by the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the San Antonio Chamber, the Hispanic Chamber, and the South San Antonio Chamber. Presented by IBC Bank, the program was moderated by Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith for a sold-out crowd of about 300 business professionals at the Mays Family Center at the Witte Museum.

While much of the dialogue at the luncheon centered on investing in MLB teams and the rules and pace of the game, there was little discussion on baseball in San Antonio, whether on the major league level or on building a new stadium downtown.

Manfred said that rumors of a players’ strike in coming years is unfounded, and there’s still uncertainty about how the Tax Reform Bill could affect baseball in terms of capital gains taxes and deductions for business-related expenses.

When asked by Smith whether the increasing level of political commentary from athletes and coaches in pro football and basketball will be seen in baseball – from taking a knee during the National Anthem in protest of police violence to Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich’s repeated criticism of President Donald Trump – both Manfred and Williams were emphatic.

“I think our sport has been very fortunate,” Manfred said. “Our players are community-minded, politically active, conscientious about what’s going on around them in the world, but I think they have found positive ways to express themselves, to be involved, and they kept it away from institutions that are really important to us. I think that’s a great credit to our players, their judgement, and their patriotism.”

Williams said he does not agree, in most cases, with players and coaches getting involved in political issues.

“I think the commissioner has done a great job in saying, ‘Baseball doesn’t take a knee,’” Williams said. “I think that everybody in sports should be grateful to the industry, the people paying their salaries.

“I think we need to focus on balls and strikes, hits and errors, and follow the box score. Some of the greatest heroes we’ve had in America were former baseball players who quit their careers to come back and fight for this country. [They] had their political views, but they stepped up. Because when America calls, America goes.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who wrote a 2000 book called Baseball for Real Men; Mayor Ron Nirenberg; and Nirenberg’s wife, Erika Prosper, chair-elect of the Hispanic Chamber, attended the event along with District 2 Councilman Cruz Shaw.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.