Last year, John Myslak helped upstart a fall baseball league for Pensacola youth. It was about more than baseball.
“Baseball is just a tool,” Myslak said.
With Pensacola Youth Baseball, Myslak hoped to provide an organization that served the minority community. More than a simple baseball league, he wanted to focus on building character and sportsmanship. He wanted the league to be a place where role models mentored kids.
Last fall, 120 local youths participated in the league. This year, more are expected.
But Myslak is taking his concept further than the fall league. He has launched a non-profit, Pensacola Training Academy, Inc., and is offering baseball clinics to local players out of the Pensacola Pelicans’ old training facility.
“It’s been nothing but positive,” Myslak said. “We’ve got a lot of buy-in at the local level, everybody’s excited about it.”
Recently, the training academy joined forces with Major League Baseball’s RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program and is working together to better the lives of area youth, both on the field and off. One primary benefit of connecting with the RBI program is increased funding opportunities.
“It’s opened up a huge amount of doors for us insofar as fundraising,” Myslak explained.
At the moment, the local non-profit is eyeing funding opportunities with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation (up to a half-million dollars), as well as with the Reds Community Fund, the charitable arm of the Cincinnati Reds, the major league team that the local double-AA Blue Wahoos feed into.
The funding obtained by the non-profit will be used to improve a local baseball field. PTA is looking to make improvements to Terry Wayne Park, located at the intersection of Gadsden and J streets.
“It’s right in the middle of the neighborhoods we’re trying to impact,” Myslak explained.
Myslak said that the connection with the RBI program would also afford local players the opportunity to travel to competitions. These ventures will provide not only a richer sports experience, but also serve as a source of invaluable lessons beyond the field.
“It gives these kids some life experience and some exposure that otherwise they would never have,” Myslak explained.
Already, the relationship has resulted in a back-and-forth with an RBI league out of Montgomery, Ala. The two organizations recently held a series of games in Pensacola.
“It was an unbelievable success—all the kids had a blast, the adults had a blast,” Myslak said, adding that local players will be traveling to Montgomery in late June to play the other side of the series.
And while Myslak’s goals—building character, instilling values—are lofty, he understands that the ills of a troubled world demand more remedies than afforded through batting practice and pep talks. But, maybe, baseball isn’t a bad place to start.
“We’re not on a white horse trying to save the world,” Myslak said. “It’s going to be one kid at a time. But that’s the way it works, I guess.”