MANHATTAN (PIX11) — The Harlem Baseball Hitting Academy has been producing some of New York City’s best players for nearly two decades, but improving your skills at the program isn’t the only benefit of signing up.
Founder Youman Wilder gives his students something more — a life coach.
“Most kids just need somebody that is going to help them along the way, and they’re sincere about it,” Wilder explained. “I said I can do this and that’s my why.”
Wilder started Harlem Baseball Hitting Academy in 2003. His very first student, Fernando Frais, questioned his baseball acumen. Wilder responded by telling Frais that he couldn’t hit a curveball. Little did Frais know, Wilder played professionally and had a .800 batting average as a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School.
That origin story has led to Wilder, who’s a professional signer, helping out roughly 700 kids.
Among that group of graduates are 41 Major League Draft Picks, 60 P.S.A.L City Champions, a World Series Champion, four N.C.A.A College World Series National Champion Winners and six Gatorade New York Players of the Year.
Surprisingly to some, there are no financial requirements to join. The only thing Wilder asks from his students is they go to school, work hard and maintain an 80 grade-point average.
“I thought I was going to teach some kids about baseball but ended up learning about life. Something I’ve done all my life,” Wilder told PIX 11 News. “Some of these kids come through situations where there is homelessness, some of these kids come through situations where there is abuse and some of these kids come through situations where education is not an email.”
Another shocking element about the successful academy is that Wilder does this all-year around without a dedicated home facility. One day the group of kids could be practicing in Harlem and during another week they could be in Yonkers at Uptown Sports Complex. That doesn’t stop any of the kids from consistently showing up.
“He knows we don’t have one place to do everything, so he tries to make it happen even if he’s feeling sick that day. He tries to make it happen,” said Cardinal Hayes junior Walddy Rodriguez.
The lack of facilities hasn’t stopped Wilder from completing the mission that he set out to do 19 years ago.
His motto has always been to put more kids of color in college than in the criminal justice system.
“Baseball is the carrot but education is the glue that is going to put everything together for you,” Wilder. “You can’t do anything without education.”
With that academy turning 20 in 2023, Wilder is hoping they can find a permanent home through fundraising and community events.