Seven Historically Black Colleges & Universities will compete in the Andre Dawson Classic, where more than 30 HBCU players have become MLB draft picks.
This is part of The Shadow League’s yearly Black History Month in Focus series celebrating Black excellence in sports and culture.
For the 6th consecutive year, HBCU baseball squads will venture to New Orleans to participate in the Andre”The Hawk” Dawson Classic, held Feb. 14-17 at NOLA MLB Youth Academy and Maestri Field at the University of New Orleans.
The Creole City is known for its spicy cuisine, exceptional musicians, rap icon Lil Wayne and the city’s overall contributions to black culture. Baseball is also an important historical part of Da Bayou’s cultural fabric.
Back when the country was rife with segregation — in the days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig — New Orleans baseball fans rooted for the Pelicans, a now defunct minor league team that won titles in 1933 and 1934.
Players of color were excluded from playing on these teams. This led Black sports enthusiasts to create the minor league New Orleans Black Pelicans and the New Orleans Creoles, both members of the Negro Southern League. It was groundbreaking. They even had women playing.
OUT COMES THE HAWK
Formerly known as the “Urban Invitational”, this annual collegiate baseball tournament was launched in 2008 by MLB to highlight Historically Black Colleges and Universities and their programs.
The event was renamed in 2018 in honor of Andre “Hawk” Dawson (Florida A&M University) – the Chicago Cubs and Montreal Expos legend who is one of only two HBCU Baseball alumni enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, joining Lou Brock, an alumnus of Southern University.
HBCUs aren’t considered breeding grounds for elite baseball players, but there will be an abundance of brothers who can pick it, blast it, pitch it and gun it at extreme levels. In the event’s 12-year history, nearly 30 HBCU players who have participated in the tournament were selected in the MLB Draft.
“The Urban Invitational is an extraordinary event that not only highlights the quality of HBCU baseball, but also the character of these young men who participate,” said Sharon Robinson, daughter of MLB icon Jackie Robinson who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
It’s truly an all-black affair and an indication of how relevant baseball continues to be within many African-American communities.
In addition to Dawson, a prestigious list of black baseball kings will participate in the event and share jewels of their pro experiences with college players.
The list includes Marquis Grissom (1995 World Series Champion), Ken Hill (1994 MLB All-Star), Marvin Freeman (10-Year MLB Pitcher) Jerry Manuel (Former Major League Manager; MLB youth initiative consultant), Tony Reagins (MLB Executive VP, Baseball & Softball Development), Del Matthews (MLB Senior Director of Baseball Development), Darrell Miller (VP, Youth & Facility Development, Major League Baseball) and Eddie Davis (Director, New Orleans MLB Youth Academy).
A tournament-record seven HBCU programs will be joined by non-HBCU Eastern Kentucky for this year’s tribute to black baseball excellence.
The participating schools include Alabama State, Alcorn State, Grambling , Florida A&M, Prairie View, Southern, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Eastern Kentucky University.
MLB YOUTH INITIATIVES DRIP TOO HARD
MLB’s Diversity & Inclusion team has been implementing various youth initiatives that’s influenced the culture of baseball over the past decade by identifying and developing more players of color. This has led to incremental but meaningful rises in the presence of African-Americans on minor league and MLB rosters.
More than 30 players on this year’s Andre Dawson Classic rosters are alumni of MLB Youth Academies, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) programs, or MLB Amateur Development Camps, such as the Breakthrough Series and Hank Aaron Invitational. At least one player in each of the participating schools has appeared in one of MLB’s baseball development programs.
COACHES BLACKIN’ IT UP
MLB has just one African-American manager, but at the Andre Dawson Classic, six out of the eight head coaches are African-American, like University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff coach Carlos James.
James was previously the head coach for University of Arkansas Monticello (UAM), becoming the first African-American head coach of any sport at UAM and the Gulf South Conference. He was also a scout for the Seattle Mariners.
The Latino influence is real too. Under head coach Jose Vasquez, Alabama State has had nine players earn a chance to play professional baseball in the last three seasons, with six players drafted.
Grambling State University head coach James Cooper was an outfielder for the Tigers, and was drafted by the Houston Astros before becoming the Tigers’ head coach in 2010.
Prairie View A&M University HC Auntwan Riggins was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He reached the AAA level in 2001. Southern University skipper Kerrick Jackson was an MLB Certified Player Agent.
The squads practice today and the tournament schedule kicks off on Friday.