Andre Dawson Classic Continues To Be A Conduit Of Diversity & Inspiration For Black Baseball Explosion
The 2023 Andre Dawson Classic took place at the University of New Orleans this year on the weekend of February 24th-26th. The annual event, marked its 15th year of showcasing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and their baseball programs, coinciding with the start of the college baseball season.
Formerly known as the “Urban Invitational”, the 2023 Andre Dawson Classic features seven HBCUs this year:
- Alabama A&M University (Huntsville, Ala.) – 1st appearance
- Alabama State University (Montgomery, Ala.) – 7th appearance; 2012-2013, 2018-2020, 2022-2023
- Florida A&M University (Tallahassee, Fla.) – 3rd appearance; 2019, 2022-2023
- Grambling State University (Grambling, La.) – 11th appearance; 2011-2012, 2014-2020, 2022-2023
- Jackson State University (Jackson, Miss.) – 2nd appearance; 2022-2023
- Prairie View A&M University (Prairie View, Texas) – 8th appearance; 2012-2013, 2016-2020, 2022-2023
- Southern University (Baton Rouge, La.) – 15th appearance; 2008-2020, 2022-2023
- University of New Orleans (New Orleans, La.) – a non-HBCU – will co-host games of the tournament as they make their 9th overall appearance (2014-2020, 2022-2023)
THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND
2️⃣ ❌ MBP HBCU ALL-STAR @GoJSUTigersBSB Ty Hill
— Minority Baseball Prospects (@MBPTakeover) February 25, 2023
The Major League Baseball-hosted event received a national spotlight through a live doubleheader feature simulcasted by MLB Network and MLB.com as part of an initiative to generate interest in baseball among young black athletes.
Andre Dawson, a 2010 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, spoke to MLB Network on what it meant to him for MLB to showcase HBCU talent.
“When Major League Baseball reached out to me it was quite the honor…. I have achieved many accolades and awards in my career, but this is right there at the top.”
MLB Network began its broadcast with Florida A&M taking on Southern. The game was highlighted by an explosive FAMU offense who had fifteen total hits including two home runs. FAMU, who benefited from a five-run 8th inning, won the game 12-6.
Alumni of both MLB Development Initiatives and Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) programs were included on every Andre Dawson Classic roster, most notably including:
- 42 players who have participated in MLB Development initiatives (such as the Dream Series, Breakthrough Series, and the Hank Aaron Invitational)
- A 121% increase from 2022
- 44 alumni from RBI, a 47% increase from 2022
- 10 players from the Houston Astros RBI and Youth Academy (across five ADC teams)
- 5 players from the Ron “Papa Jack” Jackson Baseball Foundation RBI program in Birmingham, AL
- 5 players from Atlanta Braves RBI
- 5 players from Puerto Rico RBI
- 19 alumni of MLB Youth Academies, including 10 from Houston and six from New Orleans
— Minority Baseball Prospects (@MBPTakeover) February 27, 2023
MLB also recognized that to increase black participation in baseball the players must be introduced early on at the youth level. In conjunction with the Andre Dawson Classic, a three-day 12u tournament consisting of teams from RBI and/or Youth Academy programs were held.
Throughout the weekend, many of the young players watched the HBCU games while also finding time to mingle with Dawson, who was there in attendance.
“The kids, they’ve got to start young,” Dawson said to MLB Network. “You have to keep it fun for them. They have to get quality coaching, first and foremost, and not this parents coaching stuff.
“Let them play the game and enjoy it for what it is – recreation. But they learn the craft, too. This can take them to the next level. If you can continue to work with them and help them, get better, you increase their interest in the sport.”
The young players experienced the company of the Baseball Hall of Famer, a Black man whose presence offered a level of confidence in their baseball future. The gravity of these moments should not be understated when it comes to representation: if the kids see someone of the same ethnicity make it to the big leagues, it helps them realize that their own goals are attainable.
In addition to Dawson, who is one of only three Baseball Hall of Famers who are HBCU alumni (including Lou Brock and Larry Doby), other special guests in New Orleans will include HBCU alumni and former Big Leaguers Marquis Grissom and Marvin Freeman, former Major League Manager & current MLB Baseball Development Consultant Jerry Manuel, and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick, among others.
The Andre Dawson Classic is a precursor to the HBCU Swingman Classic, which is powered by the MLB- MLBPA Youth Development Foundation and Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., scheduled for Friday, July 7th at T-Mobile Park during 2023 MLB All-Star Week in Seattle.
#MLBbro Legend Andre “The Hawk” Dawson signed with the Cubs in 1987.
He won the 1987 NL MVP Award with 49 homers. He was a 5x All-Star, 2x Gold Glover and won a Silver Slugger in 6 seasons with the Cubs.
— MLBbro.com (@MLBbrodotcom) February 14, 2023
Major League Baseball’s concerted efforts to make baseball palatable to young Black players not only helps the black youth, but they also help expand the game overall. Inclusion helps baseball evolve and become more innovative rather than stagnant. Bringing in diversity assists the sport in finding a new set of eyes from fans who may have felt ostracized due to a lack of representation.
Diversity Keeps The Sport Alive
Promoting growth is why initiatives such as the Andre Dawson Classic are integral to the game. Many of the college players who competed in the tournament were products of the RBI and Youth Academy pipeline. It is a cause for optimism that the number of players who were alumni of these youth programs played in this year’s Dawson Classic has increased. MLB Development initiatives are working.
In a statement to MLB.com, co-founder and program director of the Chicago White Sox ACE Kenny Fullman expressed joy about the Dawson Classic.
“One of the great things about this tournament, our kids don’t get to watch a lot of college baseball,” said Fullman. “A lot of times our kids don’t get to see people who look like them playing college baseball.
“This is a great opportunity for one, to see college baseball, and two, to see a lot of African-Americans and diverse people playing college baseball at a high level. I’m so thankful for this tournament.”