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Josiah Gray is the new ambassador for the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy ~ Washington

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When Josiah Gray was named the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy’s newest ambassador in late September, the role marked a full-circle moment for Gray. It was an opportunity to take his youth baseball experience and pass it on to young black baseball players.

Gray and his brothers grew up playing travel baseball, an often expensive way for kids to play on the diamond that can sometimes serve as a barrier to the sport continuing. Gray had travel ball coaches who helped defray tournament fees and season costs for him. But he understood that not every child was as lucky as he was.

There haven’t been nearly as many programs funded by Major League Baseball as there are now to get black kids more involved in the game. Gray didn’t have access to a version of Nationals Youth Baseball Academy to spark his interest, although his love for the game grew over time.

As the starting pitcher wraps up his freshman year with the Nationals, the team that traded for him in August 2020, and puts him at the center of their plans, Gray is using his time off the field to put down roots in the community.

“It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do in relation to baseball just because I know my love for the game and I think it can be passed on to the next generation,” the right-hander said. “It’s always been important to me to express that love for the game and hopefully influence some kids in the game of baseball and get more African Americans into the game.”

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Despite Major League Baseball’s efforts to improve diversity among younger generations, the league still has a long way to go. There was no US-born black player on any team at this year’s World Series. Gray believes the right steps are being taken to improve numbers across the league. And the more black players make it to the majors, the greater the chance of exposing black kids to the game.

Because of that, Gray hopes to be an inspiration to black kids in the community and believes that succeeding Josh Bell, the former ambassador, will give kids a glimpse of two black players who took different paths to become the big ones reach leagues. They were both second-round picks, but Bell went straight from high school to the majors while Gray played Division II baseball at Le Moyne (NY).

Its values ​​align directly with the Nationals Youth Academy, which aims to advance the game of baseball in the community by breaking down barriers. The Youth Academy, a 9-acre educational and recreational facility in the neighborhood of Fort Dupont Park at Ward 7, will celebrate its 10th year in 2023. It offers a range of programs to promote academic achievement and physical and mental health.

The youth baseball academy player ambassador acts as a liaison between the academy and the locker room, encouraging teammates to get involved in addition to interacting with the kids at the academy and attending program events.

Gray is the fourth Players’ Ambassador, following Ian Desmond, Anthony Rendon and Bell, to introduce Gray for the first time during a players’ visit to the Academy. Bell was traded to the San Diego Padres along with Juan Soto at the close of trading, leaving the role open. And when the youth academy approached Gray to be the next Ambassador, it felt like a natural fit.

Gray previously donated a portion of the proceeds from a clothing line he created with lifestyle brand Leovici to the Academy. But beyond that, Tal Alter, the CEO of Washington Nationals Philanthrophies, said Gray had an energy and authenticity that caught on as he went to the academy and trained with the younger kids. And when it came to the older kids, he could relate, opening up about his career, his perseverance, and his failures.

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“He’s 100 percent himself and I think the kids immediately took to him,” Alter said. “And I think Josiah has felt at home working with young children. Just go out and play and interact and just be a guy. Not major league baseball player Josiah Gray, just a guy.”

Each former ambassador has brought his personal touch to the academy, which continues to this day.

Desmond made sure the kids met with front office staff whenever they visited Nationals Park so they could learn about all the roles in a baseball organization. Rendon affiliated with an eye clinic and set up an annual eye clinic at the academy, providing prescription glasses to children in need. Bell has been the keynote speaker at the academy’s graduation ceremony for the past two years. Now Gray has the opportunity to add its own flair.

While Gray hasn’t finalized his full plans for the academy, what he – and those at the academy – mostly hope for is that the kids will leave the daily program after they’ve had fun and want to come back. If they continue with baseball after that, that’s up to them.

“I always want to put my name in the ground and make a difference somehow, and I think that’s a good way, regardless of the stuff in the field, that I can give back and kind of take root,” Gray said. “Obviously there’s also work to be done on the field, but I think that’s going to be something off the field that I can really enjoy.”

“Take a step back from the game and appreciate it all the more because these kids don’t look up your stats every two seconds. They just say, “Hey, he’s here to play baseball with us and he’s here to enjoy the game.”

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