HBCU Swingman Classic Comes To Texas | Ken Griffey Jr’s Star Shines Light On Black College Baseball’s Brightest

HBCU Swingman Classic Comes To Texas | Ken Griffey Jr’s Star Shines Light On Black College Baseball’s Brightest

The annual HBCU Swingman Classic is just five months away.

 

Tickets will go on sale now due to the great turnout from last year’s inaugural event. Last year it was in Seattle, this year it’s at Globe Life Field, home of the World Series Champion Texas Rangers,

 

50 players from historically Black colleges and universities will showcase their skills nationally, while spotlighting the legacies of HBCU programs. The classic is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and will air live on MLB Network.

 

The Swingman Classic held its first event on July 7th, 2023, with some of baseball’s biggest names helping to bring it to fruition and promote it on a large audience. 

 

MLB Hall of Famer, Ken Griffey Jr, supported the swingman classic and MLBbro was there every step of the way. 

 

Griffey-Backed Swingman Classic Becoming Gateway For HBCUs

 

With Griffey now a main supporter of this combine, many other Black baseball greats were inspired to help this classic and get more eyes on Black College baseball and the deep talent pool that participates in at these schools. 

 

 As a representative, Griffey knows that HBCU talent needs exposure and the mainstream market. With his presence, he can bring them to the table. 

 

“It gives an opportunity for these guys to be seen; plus, they want to continue their baseball career like everyone else,” said Junior, who had 13 All Star appearances and 10 Gold Gloves throughout his career. “This is an opportunity for these guys to be out there on a big stage, to have fun with some guys who played the game at a high level and learn some things.”

 

For years HBCU athletics have not received the proper recognition from Major League Baseball, despite examples of great players ascending from those programs into MLB stardom. 

 

 

This combine and game during the MLB All-Star festivities will put the MLB on notice as some great baseball players are in the HBCU system. 

 

HBCU players are well-represented in the MLB. Players such as Ricky and Jemile Weeks, Joe Black, Lou Brock, Andre Dawson and more. In the 2023 MLB draft, there were three players from HBCUs who got drafted. 

 

Former HBCU stars Trey Paige, and Xavier Meachen (10th Round, Florida Marlins), were selected for the 2023 draft and were also at the first annual Swingman Classic, which undoubtedly put them on new radars and elevated their stock.  

 

“I was super excited I got the invite,” Paige, who was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 17th round out of Delaware State, told MLBbro last year. “This shows that you can go to an HBCU and still have some recognition with big-name schools,” Paige said. 

 

Paige plays mostly the infield and has bounced around the minor leagues for most of the year. Just like last year, there will be a ton of MLBbro talent on the field. Maybe even more, considering that this year might have a much bigger and better turnout. 

 

Even though the Swingman Classic is set to showcase some of the brightest young talents, this is also an opportunity to showcase the HBCU baseball alum in attendance.  

 

Ricky Weeks Jr played and attended Southern University A&M.  While being a standout baseball star during his time in college, Weeks managed to put Southern A&M on the map. Weeks was one of very few to be an HBCU alum during his time in the majors. However, this shows that there is talent in HBCU athletics. 

 

 

With this new recognition that HBCU athletes are getting now, this event can be another route for great baseball talent from underpromoted schools to become Major Leaguers stars. 

Ken Griffey Jr. Provides Mentorship For Seattle Mariners Rising Superstar Julio Rodriguez | “Who’s Going To Be Better?”

Ken Griffey Jr. Provides Mentorship For Seattle Mariners Rising Superstar Julio Rodriguez | “Who’s Going To Be Better?”

They say game recognizes game and Seattle Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez’ historic play over the past two seasons has drawn comparisons to another Mariners great, 2016 Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.

“The Kid” took notice of J-Rod’s talent early last season and has placed the August AL Player of the month under his wing.

 

“He’s always open to talk about everything,” Rodríguez said. “It’s really cool to have him around. I know a lot of people are always trying to compare us and say, ‘Who’s going to be better?’ But I feel like [we both] have [our] own time and I’m really grateful that I have someone in my corner to mentor me and tell me the things that I should expect along the way. It’s really cool having his help. He’s definitely one of the greatest players ever to play the game.”

 

 

While the similarities are there: Gold Glove caliber defense, elite power, youthful exuberance and effortless swagger, it seems unfair to both parties to forecast whether Rodriguez will match or surpass his mentor’s career.

However, at this point, it does seem that J-Rod is destined for greatness, and soaking up game from Junior can’t hurt one bit.

 

The Seattle Mariners were floundering early in the season and fell as far as 10 games out of first place on July 1st. Then the team flipped a switch and recaptured the magic that helped them break a long playoff drought in 2022 leading to optimism for this season.

 The M’s (79-61) are now embroiled in a heated three team battle with fellow AL West foes – The Houston Astros and Texas Rangers. 

 

MLBbros In A Close Battle For American League West Division Crown

 

Since July 1st, The Mariners are a scorching 41-19 (.683) in their last 60 games. They are now currently sitting a ½ game out of first place, and alone in the second AL Wild Card spot. No team has performed better over that span. 

 

Seattle Transformation Led By Julio Rodriguez 

 

Seattle’s remarkable turnaround runs concurrent with the resurgence of 22-year-old phenom Julio Rodriguez, who has shaken off an early sophomore jinx to put together another historical speed/power season. 

The two-time All-Star is hitting .337 with 82 hits, 14 home runs, 51 RBIs and 39 runs scored since July 1st. He’s now batting .282, with 27 home runs and 93 RBIs.

His 5.3 War ranks eleventh best in MLB as of September 8. Just two weeks ago, Rodriguez became the fastest Mariner to smash 50 home runs, reaching the total in just 256 games. On September 5th in Cincinnati, he became the first player in MLB history to have 25 home runs and 25 steals in each of his first two seasons.

 

 

Mariners Legends Harold Reynolds & Ken Griffey Jr. Will Play Huge Roles As Ambassadors, Hosts During All-Star Week In Seattle

Mariners Legends Harold Reynolds & Ken Griffey Jr. Will Play Huge Roles As Ambassadors, Hosts During All-Star Week In Seattle

Ken Griffey Jr. and Harold Reynolds became legends during their time with the Seattle Mariners and now both will play a huge role as hosts during All-Star Weekend this year in Seattle.

For the first time since 2001 and third overall, the city of Seattle will host Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.

 

Griffey-Backed Swingman Classic Becoming Gateway For HBCUs

 

This year’s All-Star Game has a chance to be one of the most exciting and memorable in recent memory. With the new rules coming from last season’s CBA, more people are watching MLB than ever before.

Fans both new and old are enjoying the faster pace of play and increased action that MLB games have delivered over the first three months of the season. With the best collection of talent being in the same area, All-Star Week will be a showcase of all the great things the sport offers.

 

HBCU Swingman Classic Gives Black College Players A Showcase In Seattle | Celebrating Old & New Legends Of Black Baseball

 

First will be the Inaugural Swingman Classic on Friday, July 7th.  The extravaganza featured a matchup between 50 of the best HBCU talents across the country. This collaboration — executed by MLBbro’s biggest ambassador, Ken Griffey Jr. and the MLB Players Association Youth Development Program — was created to give these players and schools a chance to gain exposure.

 

“These kids at HBCU schools do not have the data, exit velocity or spins rates to give to teams,” Reynolds told reporters.

 

“The Power 5 schools have all of the information.  You have got to give these kids the same opportunity.  I do not care if you are Andre Dawson or Rickie Weeks, if you do not have the information they are looking for you are not going to get picked.”

 

Harold Reynolds Will Call The Game With Dave Sims, Then Manage  

 

Reynolds will be on the broadcast crew calling the game for MLB Network Friday night.

 

Saturday, Reynolds will get to manage for the first time in his life when he coaches the American League team in the Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game Saturday.  He will be joined by a staff of former Major Leaguers including past Mariners stars Mike Cameron and Alvin Davis.

 

 

That is just the beginning of a long stretch of appearances for Reynolds.

He will help host the 2024 MLB Draft Sunday, be on the pregame show for the Home Run Derby Monday, host the pregame Red Carpet show before the All-Star Game Tuesday and then break down the actual game when it comes to a conclusion.

This weekend will also serve as a chance to honor the generational talent that is Ken Griffey Jr. an idol to most all players. The Swingman and backwards hat are staples for baseball fans around the globe.

Griffey made the All-Star team 13 times in his career while adding 10 Gold Gloves and seven Silver Sluggers during his time in a Mariners uniform.

Reynolds, who is one of the few that got to play on the same team with both Ken Sr. and Jr. was no slouch in his own right. He won three Gold Gloves and made the All-Star team in 1987 and 1988 for the Mariners He added 250 stolen bases in his career and finished with a batting average of .258.

 

 

So Black Baseball will be represented well in Seattle, by two MLBbros who have devoted their lives to promoting, improving and cultivating the game of baseball.

HBCU Swingman Classic Gives Black College Players A Showcase	In Seattle | Celebrating Old & New Legends Of Black Baseball

HBCU Swingman Classic Gives Black College Players A Showcase In Seattle | Celebrating Old & New Legends Of Black Baseball

Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs] have become more than just a sanctuary for Black collegiate student-athletes.  It now appears that Major League Baseball is ready to visit those athletic programs for players who have been previously overlooked. 

 

 

HBCU Swingman Classic & Ken Griffey Jr. 

 

The first HBCU Swingman Classic on July 7, will feature 50 HBCU Players during MLB All-Star Week’s first pitch in Seattle with Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. as its catalyst. MLB’s Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI) program has also produced several Black American Major Leaguers – including former pitcher C.C. Sabathia and current Seattle Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford.  However, this will be the first time that MLB has literally put its money where its mouth is to give aspiring talent from HBCUs their own all-star showcase.

 

“I could never fathom this happening,” said former Southern University’s legendary coach and College Baseball Hall of Famer Roger Cador.  “I had been working with [MLB Chief Baseball Development Officer] Tony Reagins and we had been trying to do something like this for the last three years.”

 

“But it wasn’t until Ken Griffey, Jr. along with [MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred] came along and gave their support that the idea became reality and it’s something that will be around for years to come”.

 

Griffey-Backed Swingman Classic Becoming Gateway For HBCUs

 

 

MLB appears to understand there is something unsettling about the dwindling numbers of Black American players as the game continues importing most of the new generation of stars from the Dominican Republic and Asia.

 

However, some of the greatest Black Knights in the history of baseball have ties to HBCUs. For example: Larry Doby, who played at Virginia Union University, was MLB’s second Black American player with the Cleveland franchise debuting 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson.  

 

MLB Has HBCU Roots 

 

St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Lou Brock – a multiple world champion and one time MLB all-time stolen base leader – is a graduate of Southern University.  Joe Black, the 1952 National League Rookie of the Year with the Brooklyn Dodgers, graduated from Morgan State. The 1969 World Series MVP Donn Clendenon from the “Amazin’ New York Mets is a Morehouse man.  Vince Coleman, Marquis Grissom, and Andre Dawson would be statistically one of the greatest outfield combinations of all-time and they all played at Florida A&M. 

 

 

HBCU Players In MLB Draft? 

Texas Southern junior outfielder Johnathon Thomas was the first HBCU baseball player taken in the 2022 MLB First-Year Player Draft.  He was selected in the 19th round with the 561st overall pick by the Washington Nationals. Those who follow the prospects in their organization feel that with the talent pool of outfielders already there he faces a difficult battle trying to make the show.

Nonetheless, this is one of the showcases giving HBCU baseball programs a stage to evaluate prospects with support from MLB. In addition to being a platform for MLB scouts, the game’s most valuable player will earn a name, image, and likeness (NIL) deal from T-Mobile to immediately enter the new world order of capitalizing on marketing and commercial advertising deals.

 

“I don’t know if we’ll get the type of players we once did, ” Cador said.  

 

“But I’m thinking with this All Star Game and the NIL money we may be able to make up some ground on bringing mid-level players back to Black colleges.”

 

Cador is to HBCU baseball what the late Eddie Robinson was to Black College football at Grambling.  He took a non-existent program and won 14 Southwestern Athletic Conference and two HBCU National championships in 17 seasons. Cador also had 62 players drafted and 11 All-Americans including 2003 Golden Spikes Awards winner Rickie Weeks who was the second pick in that year’s MLB Draft. Weeks played 14 years with the Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Tampa Bay Rays.

 

 

Earlier this year, the Black College World Series was played in Montgomery, Alabama featuring HBCU players from NAIA and NCAA Division II Schools that was scouted by Major League Baseball clubs also. However, that was a survive and advance series with a championship in the balance. 

 

Andre Dawson Classic Continues To Be A Conduit Of Diversity & Inspiration For Black Baseball Explosion

 

It’s one of several efforts, including the Andrew Dawson Classic, being played that give Black college players an unprecedented stage to display their skills before scouts and talent evaluators.

Florida Memorial (22-24) beat Albany State (39-11) 5-4 in a 19-inning championship game at Riverwalk Park – home of the Class AA Montgomery Biscuits – who are an affiliate of the Tampa Rays.

As a sobering reminder of the plight facing Black American players on MLB rosters today, the 2022 World Series marked the first time since 1950 that didn’t feature any U.S. born Black players which was just three years after Jackie Robinson broke the game’s color barrier.

 

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