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Cle Ross is bringing youth baseball back to an inner city

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"I realized I had reached my peak," Ross says of his brief stint in pro baseball. "I was content with what I had accomplished."

Raised by a single mother in a household of modest means, young Cle looked to coaches to serve as role models. He was also touched when a neighbor left sports equipment anonymously on his doorstep – a football, a baseball glove, a bat, and a pair of wrestling shoes, none of which he could afford. He vowed that he would one day find a way to give back to others.

While he was a student at KCKCC, Ross frequently jogged down Parallel Parkway, past the Wyandotte County 3&2 ballpark. Nestled in a deep hollow and surrounded by trees, in its heyday in the 1970s and '80s it was a beautifully maintained and bustling center of activity where 2,000 kids each season played on two lighted fields.

When a job as a freight broker with a trucking firm brought Ross back to Kansas City in 2004, he found that the baseball complex he remembered as a jewel was now an eyesore. The ballpark had closed in 1998; with it, youth baseball had died.

Ross began a two-pronged campaign to bring both back to life. He tracked down the previous owner and formed a nonprofit group that took possession of the abandoned park. In 2009, he organized 150 children into a baseball league. The following year, he obtained chapter affiliation with Major League Baseball's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program.

"There are a lot of kids in the inner city who live in single-parent households, so I figured the best thing I can do to give back is to try to reach out to some of those kids and introduce them to the game of baseball," he says. "I hope some of them will be able to use baseball as a tool to go to college and become educated."

So far, Ross and a small army of volunteers have repaired and painted the grandstand, bleachers, dugouts, and concessions stand; restored the batting cages; and begun work on the infield.

The ballpark was used for the opening game of the 2010 season, when it was renamed the Damian Rolls Stadium, after a Kansas City native who played for five years with the Tampa Bay Rays. Until electricity and plumbing can be restored, league games are played at other parks in the area.

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