There was one problem with Josh Bell’s visit to the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in mid-April: no kids.

It was the kids, after all — or the thought of them — who made Bell sign on as the academy’s third-ever player ambassador. The kids revived the hope he lost last May. These kids, Bell would explain, were how change begins.

Yet the hallways were empty when he first saw the academy, just east of the Anacostia River, wedged in some of Washington’s low-income neighborhoods. So were the fields, the batting cages and the classrooms, because it was a weekday morning in a pandemic that has forced in-person activities to be scaled back. But it gave Bell a chance to imagine both the kids and himself as one of them. After he was traded to the Nationals in December, Bell joined the academy’s efforts and started a public book club for adults. He wants to focus on bettering education for children, for teenagers, for anyone shorted opportunities because of where they were born or what they look like.

And he believes that D.C. is the perfect place to do that. Nearly 2,000 kids participate in the academy’s programs, which include baseball, tutoring and cooking classes, for kids and parents, to teach healthy diets and lifestyles. Many of the kids live in Wards 7 and 8, predominantly Black areas. Weeks after he saw it, while discussing small- and large-scale progress on a bench near Nationals Park, Bell lit up about the academy and what’s next. He is 28 and antsy. He wants to do a lot.

“Because every city has the underserved communities that have been there for, you know, years, decades, centuries. And it’s like, ‘Okay, what can I do?’ ” asked Bell, the Nationals’ new first baseman, placing a heavy emphasis on “I.” “I have like a very small platform; people probably don’t care what I have to say in regards to most of the issues away from the field. But if some people listen or if I can donate my time or the funds to different areas, hopefully in the long run things will be better. That’s where I’m at with it. It feels like an uphill marathon.”

But does he really feel that people don’t care about what he, a professional baseball player, has to say?

“What is caring?” he responded with a smile. “How much would you have to see, I don’t know, to go inside a burning building and help people inside? You have to hear the screams? Do you have to know somebody inside? Do you have to just know that there’s a fire and just run in and see if there’s anybody in there? I mean, I can’t make people care. That’s more of a heart thing. Some people just don’t have the sense of what really is going on.”

In 2020, after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Bell spent each Sunday crafting an Instagram post about social reform. But after a while, as the comments piled up, Bell felt people were too often conflating human rights — and a call for human decency — with partisan politics.

He was stuck inside and burned out. That’s when his hope deflated.

“I got to the end of the season, and I was like, ‘You’re not going to solve structural racism on social media, JB,’ ” Bell said, referring to himself with a laugh. “ ‘You have like 50,000 followers. You’re not Beyoncé on a podcast or a TED Talk with like Oprah or someone like that. You can’t single-handedly do it.’ So then what?”

Throughout five years with the Pirates, Bell was involved with various organizations in Pittsburgh. His mother, Myrtle, is a professor of diversity at the University of Texas at Arlington’s school of management. His father, Earnest, used to take Bell through his childhood neighborhood in Houston and explain the opportunity gaps.

When it’s suggested that Bell had no choice but to engage with social issues from a young age, he grins and says: “Oh, no. That was written for me.” He’s more than willing to detail a redistribution of tax dollars to emphasize education in underserved Black communities. He says if large corporations saw more benefits to educational equity, there would be more education-focused political donations, which could reshape policy agendas and help fix some of the inequities that begin in classrooms. Bell has thought this through.

“Because who makes it to the big leagues, really? Who’s going to get a scholarship? It’s very few,” Bell said. “But how many kids are going to go through the academy as a whole, how many kids can go in the next hundred years? I mean, I can donate my time or the funds to different areas, hopefully in the long run things will be better.”

The academy, then, is a blend of his visions. There’s a reason every window of the building looks out to a field. Baseball is the core. But the academy also offers after-school enrichment programs and mentorship. It is a collision of sports and incremental reform.

Before Bell, the ambassadors were Anthony Rendon and Ian Desmond, with Desmond being the first Nationals player to frequent the academy. Desmond called Bell this winter and told him to check it out, hoping for someone to continue what he and Rendon had started. Bell soon contacted Tal Alter, the chief executive officer of Nationals Philanthropies, and that was it. Bell’s mid-April tour was scheduled.

“When I dropped him off, he said, ‘You know, this isn’t work to me,’ ” Alter recalled. “So to take time, take what little free time he has and use it to be a regular participant in what’s going on at the academy, it really means a lot.”

As Alter showed Bell the facility, Bell left each interaction in a similar way. He told a security guard that he would see him around. He told the education coordinator that he was excited to work with her. He looked and sounded like someone settling in.

His teammates have donated their time and money to the academy in recent years, and many will continue to. But Bell will be a constant presence for the kids. And he wants them to be a constant presence for him.