Ryan Howard ran out onto the diamond Thursday afternoon in South Philadelphia. Except this didn’t occur at Citizens Bank Park and the Big Piece wasn’t in his normal work attire.

Howard and his wife Krystle were on hand along with other special guests for the grand opening of the new baseball field at the Phillies MLB Urban Youth Academy, located at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park.

“To take the young people that play our game and give them a future in our game is what drives the academy,” Phillies Chairman David Montgomery said. “If you have the ability and interest to keep playing, we want to build the avenue to do that.”

Also supporting youth baseball in South Philly was Phillies legend and seven-time all-star Dick Allen and former player and Phils' announcer Gary “Sarge” Matthews.

“We didn’t have many Major League teams involved when I was a youth,” Matthews said, “I can’t remember a Minor League field even being this nice. I grew up in the city so this is very important to these kids.”

In addition to this, the fifth Urban Youth Academy in Major League Baseball, construction will begin this summer on an indoor facility located at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center (740 South 17th Street) making Philadelphia the only existing multi-site in the country for the Urban Academy.

“The partnership of Major League Baseball and the Phillies with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation provides enriching new opportunities for youth throughout the city,” said Michael DiBerardinis, Deputy Mayor for Environmental and Community Resources. “The City of Philadelphia is fully committed to this collective effort of providing participants with the skills and experiences that prepare them for success both on and off the playing field.”

The programs implemented will focus on skill development, physical fitness, coach training and academic support.

“We want to augment mentoring and educational support,” Montgomery said. “We want to maximize educational opportunities for those youth who have challenges.”

After a ceremonial first pitch involving Howard, Allen and Mahlon Duckett (the last surviving member of the Philadelphia Stars Negro League baseball team), a game needed to be played to break in the field.

And that’s just what the players from the Phillies RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) and All-Star Teams did.

The Phillies paved the way for young players when they won five straight NL East crowns including a 2008 World Series championship. It continued last summer as the Taney Dragons made their deep run in the Little League World Series. Youth baseball in Philadelphia is getting stronger and stronger and the Phillies MLB Urban Youth Academy is helping to keep the dream alive.