Josiah Gray is the new ambassador for the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy
There weren’t 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 the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy to pique his interest, though his love for the game grew over time.
As the starting pitcher finishes his first year with the Nationals, the team that traded for him in August 2020 and is placing 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 something I’ve wanted to do in terms of 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 be able to express that love for the game and hopefully impact some kids in the game of baseball, getting more African-Americans into the game.”
Despite Major League Baseball’s efforts to improve diversity among younger generations, the league still has a ways to go. In that year’s World Series, there were no American-born black players on either team. Gray believes the right steps are being taken to improve the numbers across the league. And the more black players that make it to the majors, the more chances to expose black kids to the game.
That’s why Gray hopes to be an inspiration to black kids in the community and believes that following Josh Bell, the previous ambassador, will give kids a glimpse of two black players who forged different paths to reach the major leagues. Both were second-round picks, but Bell went straight to the majors out of high school while Gray played Division II baseball at Le Moyne (NY).
His values align directly with the Nationals Youth Academy, which aims to grow the game of baseball in the community by removing barriers. The Youth Academy, a nine-acre educational and recreational facility located in Ward 7’s Fort Dupont Park neighborhood, will enter its 10th year in 2023. It provides a variety of programming to assist with academic achievement and physical health and mental
The Youth Baseball Academy Player Ambassador serves as a liaison between the academy and the locker room, encouraging teammates to get involved as well as interacting with the academy kids and getting involved in events of programming.
Gray is the fourth player ambassador, following Ian Desmond, Anthony Rendon and Bell, who first introduced Gray to the academy on a player visit. Bell was traded to the San Diego Padres along with Juan Soto at the trade deadline, leaving the role open. And when the Youth Academy approached Gray about being the next ambassador, it seemed like a natural fit.
In the past, Gray has already donated a portion of the proceeds from a clothing line he created with lifestyle brand Leovici to the Academy. But beyond that, Tal Alter, CEO of the Washington Nationals Philanthropies, said Gray had an energy and authenticity that stood out when he went to the academy and worked with younger kids. And when it came to the older kids, he could relate by opening up about his career, his perseverance, and his failure.
“He’s himself 100 percent of the time, and so I think immediately the kids felt comfortable with him,” Alter said. “And I think Josiah felt right at home working with little kids. Just going out and playing and interacting and being a guy. Not Major League basketball player Josiah Gray, just a guy.”
Each former ambassador has added his personal touch to the academy that still exists today.
Desmond made sure the kids met with the front office every time they went to Nationals Park so they could learn about all the roles in a baseball organization. Rendon connected with a vision clinic and established an annual eye clinic at the academy, providing prescription glasses to children in need. Bell was the academy’s commencement speaker the past two years. Now, Gray will have a chance to add his own style.
While Gray hasn’t yet laid out his full plans for the academy, he, and those at the Academy, hope above all that kids will leave the daily schedule having had fun and wanting to come back . If they continue with baseball after that, that’s up to them.
“I always want to put my name on the ground and make an impact and I think this is a good way outside of the field stuff that I can give back and plant some roots,” Gray said. “Obviously you have to take care of the work on the field as well, but I think this will be something off the field that I can really enjoy.”
“A little behind the game and I appreciate it a lot more because these kids aren’t looking for your stats every two seconds. They’re just saying, ‘Hey, he’s here to play baseball with us and here to enjoy the game.'”
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