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Difference Maker

Cle Ross is bringing youth baseball back to an inner city

Cle Ross is turning an eyesore in Kansas City, Kan., back into a baseball park to get urban kids off the streets and teach life lessons.

By David ConradsCorrespondent / July 4, 2011

Cle Ross (back l., with Marquis Roby Sr., a KCK RBI league coach, and youth baseball players) was given sports equipment anonymously as a child and eventually played minor league baseball. Now he helps urban youths through Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program.

David Conrads

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Kansas City, Kan.

It's a warm summer evening in Kansas City, Kan., and Cle Ross is surveying the scene at Heathwood Park, a modest but well-kept baseball field owned by the city.

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Spectators – parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, and several dogs – overflow the small grandstand as two age-12-and-under baseball teams, the Padres and the Angels, battle on the field.

It's the opening game of the KCK RBI baseball league, and Mr. Ross is pleased with what he sees. "It's awesome," he says. "When we started three years ago, everybody told me kids in the inner city weren't interested in baseball."

Ross was born in Kansas City, Kan. (across the Missouri River from its larger namesake in Missouri), and grew up in Wellington, a small agricultural town in south-central Kansas. Sports were always a big part of his life. He wrestled and played football and basketball in high school. But it was baseball that served as a springboard to a college education, a business career, and a bright future.

Beginning at Kansas City Kansas Community College (KCKCC), the tall, lean center fielder with good speed and a good bat earned full-ride scholarships for the rest of his college career.

After graduating from the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff with a mass communications degree, he signed as a free agent with the Texas Rangers and played for a year in the minor leagues.

"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.

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