One baseball team has been working hard to give players the best opportunity to get to college.
The Baytown Baseball Academy is in its sixth year, headed up by Donnie-Ray Gregory, a plant inspector for Monument Chemical in Channelview by day and a coach with a mission the rest of the time.
Gregory, who didn’t play baseball past high school considers his role as a higher calling to help others.
“I wish I could take all the credit however my motivation is from a higher calling,” Gregory said. “I have had as many as three baseball players living in my home with me and my family at one time.There is a need in the community to help these kids and families. I use baseball as my platform to community outreach. If I can get a kid to college through baseball where he can get an education that leads to a better quality of life than that which his parents and past family members had then we are changing the course of families futures.”
The BBA is a spring and summer program that gets players prepped for college. Athletes must maintain a 3.0, volunteer six hours of community service a month and be a part of a high school baseball program.
So far, Gregory has found a college home for 86 players and his teams run from ages 14-18 and a collegiate team full of players returning from college that need some extra work.
“We have been fortunate to get kids into college,” Gregory said. “Out of 86, 63 of them were the first to go to college. Most of our kids come from single parent, low income.”
Gregory said he charges players $1,000 over the course of a summer.
Yet, that is only a figure when in reality, Gregory rarely sees invoices paid in full, if at all.
“I’ve lost money every year,” Gregory said. “We hardly get it. Nobody hardly pays. We get kids who haven’t paid a dime for all four years because they just don’t have the money. I am blessed to have a job that allows me to do this.
“I don’t hunt. I don’t fish. I don’t golf. I baseball.”
While getting them ready for college, the giving back to the community includes working at food banks on weekends they are not playing, cleaning up city parks and bayous and holding toy drives to help the Bay Area Homeless Shelter. They also did various work during the Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.
All this and yet when it comes to practice, Gregory can’t use local school facilities due to a mix of players from all areas.
“If I had just Crosby kids, I could practice at Crosby, if I have Baytown Sterling kids, I can practice at Sterling,” Gregory said. “I have a mix of kids from the area. So, if I use one of those kids they are going to charge me $600 per practice. We do not have a field. We try to use the Pony baseball fields, but they charge us too much money to do that. We’re everywhere. If we can find an open piece in the ground, that’s where we are at.
“We practice in parking lots. There is just no land available for us.”
Gregory says he can sometimes find practice time at Jenkins Park through Pony baseball. He pays $180 for three practices a week.
“You add that up it’s more than $500 a month and you can’t afford that for practice,” Gregory said. “Sometimes we use the fields at McLeod Park. They are in bad shape. They are open to anybody so sometimes we get them, sometimes we don’t.”
Most of the tournaments the team plays will be on college campuses and they are used as recruiting events.
Sterling head baseball coach Adam Shibley has Gregory help with the Rangers Connie Mack team and he has worked with his academy over the years.
“Donnie does a great job of offering our local kids an affordable option to play summer baseball,” Shibley said. “I love that Donnie isn’t afraid to ask for advice on any and everything having to do with the game and/or preventative care or post-game care. He definitely has the kids best interest in mind.”
Shibley says the two men have spent hours talking about the sport when it comes to methods, drills, theories and health care for the kids.
“I had just gotten the head coaching job, he was trying to get his program up and running and I tried to help in any way I could,” Shibley said. “It started slow with mainly Sterling kids, but it was only a matter of time until word got out of how he runs his operation and how he puts the interest of the player first, and the surrounding area kids caught on.”
BBA’s next action will be July 11-14 when they head to the South Texas Classic in Corpus Christi.
“We are making the impossible possible and in the process building relationships that last a lifetime,” Gregory said.
For more information on BBA visit https://www.facebook.com/baytownbaseballacademy/.