Students in full Nationals uniform during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Nationals ownership, front office and players, along with local officials such as District Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and U.S. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), formally unveiled the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Southeast on Saturday morning. The facility, which took more than eight years to come to fruition, has seven classrooms, a teaching kitchen, an indoor practice facility and three artificial turf baseball fields. The academy is meant to provide baseball, nutritional and classroom instruction, along with mentoring, in areas of the city where the sport has lost popularity.

“I’m beyond elated,” said Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, a principal owner of the Nationals and chair of the team’s charitable wing, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, who led the construction of the academy. “It’s been a long time coming.”

The city donated $10.2 million of the $17.7 million cost of construction, team officials said. The Nationals and its charity donated is $5.5 million. Major League Baseball donated $1 million, and several companies also made contributions. Students started in the academy’s program in October at a nearby elementary school but moved into the completed facility earlier this month.

“I was a baseball player and I know what it did for me,” said Gray, a star baseball player at Dunbar High in the 1960s. “Not just in terms of work, but in terms of being a human being. I know what it can do for kids. Baseball has not been that prevalent among the youth of this city and this is an opportunity to bring baseball to the east end of this city in a really high quality way.”

Players were expected to take batting practice on the main field before Saturday’s exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers, but rain canceled both the batting practice and the game. Shortstop Ian Desmond, who sits on the academy’s board, said he hopes to lend a hand at the facility as often as possible during the season.

“We’re giving these kids something that nobody will ever take away from them,” he said. “Whether its cooking lessons or baseball skills or just the love of the game through mentors, volunteers or people around them. That’s not something that we all realize is a necessity because we get it and take it for granted. But a lot of these kids are in dire situations and really need someone to put their arms around them every once in a while.”