Former major leaguer Don Buford keeps the dreams alive

Recently, Robinson, now an MLB vice president, came knocking on Buford's door again. The result has been a decline in Buford's golf game and a rise in his sense of commitment and achievement.

Buford is the new director of MLB's Urban Youth Academy. It is off Artesia Boulevard on the grounds of El Camino College Compton Center. Its facilities include two full-sized baseball fields, one softball field and one Little League field. No dirt infields here. The grass is well-manicured, there are batting cages and soon more lights will be added so the facility can stay open later.

"I call this our community field of dreams," Buford says.

This is part of MLB's program for reviving baseball in low-income communities. It started in 1989 and the Compton youth academy is the first of what will soon be five across the country.

The once-retired Buford now fights the traffic out of the Valley and into Compton every day, and returns home about 7.

"I've found I still have some juices left," he says.

The academy serves thousands. It is in a heavily minority area; all youngsters of both genders and any talent level are welcome. They average 60 new signups every Saturday, Buford says. They have programs that help with school. They even have a poster boy for that, Dominic Smith of Serra High School in Gardena, a MLB draft prospect this year. He came to the academy with a barely 2.0 grade-point average and now has it up to 3.1.

One Academy mission statement: "Promote greater Inclusion of minorities into the mainstream of the game."

That is being done. Martin Luther King would nod.

He'd also give Don Buford a pat on the back.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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