When Chip Lawrence, a former major leaguer, ended his playing career; he wanted to give back to Black kids who shared his passion for baseball. Eight years ago, he started putting together baseball showcase events.
Three years ago, Lawrence, who works as a scout for the San Diego Padres, incorporated his dream into the Pro Youth Foundation. He has narrowed his focus to providing an opportunity for Black young men to advance their education via a historical Black College and University experience.
This weekend, Lawrence is hosting the HBCU/ALL COLLEGE BASEBALL SHOWCASE, at WestLake High School in Atlanta, Georgia. The showcase is a two day event which will see 80 kids display their skills on Saturday and a fresh 80 on Sunday. Players from as far away as North Carolina and Florida came to audition for college scholarships.
Austin Davis, the fastest athlete in the Saturday group, ran the 60 yard dash in 6.4 seconds, well under the 6.7 standard for elite baseball runners. Davis lives in Florida, but wanted to showcase his skills to Black College Baseball coaches.
Samuel Fleming, a 15 year old shortstop at North Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, drove up with his father to participate in the showcase. He has a 4.3 grade point average, which will give him an edge in obtaining an offer because HBCUs traditionally have one to three baseball scholarships. They resort to academic scholarships and favor the Black baseball player who can earn the academic money through their university.
Fleming has three more years in high school before he is eligible to be considered for a scholarship. His dad, Sly Fleming said, “I brought him to this showcase now, because baseball is one of those things that the more repetition that you have the better you get. I wanted him to see what the competition will be like when he is a senior.”
A strong supporter of the showcase is former Atlanta Braves centerfielder, Marquis Grissom. He established the Marquis Grissom Foundation which teaches baseball skills and also helps prepare young men for college and for careers in corporate America.
“In high school I knew what I wanted to do,” Grissom said. “I wanted to give back to my community, so when I retired from baseball, I started coaching these young men. I’m not out to make baseball players out of them, but I want to help them be successful in society.”
Grissom’s foundation takes his young baseball players to visit with many of the Fortune 500 companies in the Atlanta area. He is planning a trip to the Google facility in California.
“I’d like to take 36 young men on a tour of the Google headquarters. This will be a good experience for them,” Grissom said.
He knows the importance of having a college education. He grew up in an area in College Park known as Red Oak, not the best area to grow up in College Park. When he graduated from high school he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds. He was offered a $25,000 signing bonus. His parents wanted him to go to college.
“It was hard to turn down $25,000. We didn’t have any running water, air conditioner or electric heat in the house. But my parents wanted me to get my education and I’m glad they insisted that I go to college,” Grissom said.
He did not know how he would pay for college, but when you are living right the universe tends to solve all mysteries out of the blue. During a baseball game at Lakeshore High School, Grissom hit a ball out of the park. The late Bob Lucas was walking on the school track. The ball nearly hit him. Lucas walked over to the baseball park and asked who hit the ball. Everybody pointed towards Grissom.
“Coach Lucas told me, ‘Son you’re going to FAMU to play baseball,’” Grissom said.
“Coach Lucas put me in his car and drove me home. He talked to my parents and I was enrolled in school at Florida A&M University,” he said.
Grissom has an additional interest in the showcase this year. His brother Antonio Grissom was recently named the head baseball coach at Morehouse College.
Antonio Grissom said, “The showcase is a good thing. It gives me a chance to see what the upcoming talent looks like as I get the Morehouse program back on track.”
Coach Grissom believes “The House” will have a much improved team this year. Former Atlanta Braves pitcher Marvin Freeman will coach the pitchers.
Most of the schools with coaches present were members of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with representatives from Morehouse, Clark-Atlanta, LeMoyne-Owens, Kentucky State and Lane College. Also in attendance were coaches from Southern, Jackson State, Selma University, Voorhees College, Stillman, and Hillsboro Community College.
In addition to Lawrence, several other major league franchises had scouts at the showcase. Lenny Webster, who retired from the big league in 2000 was present and taking a look at the talent.
Webster said that it was his observation that Major League Baseball is on track to improve the numbers of African American players in the league and that he is heartened by the steps he sees coming out of the commissioner’s office.
Baltimore Orioles scout Arthur McConnehead, said that the Orioles who have only two Blacks players were strongly committed to increasing the numbers of African players in their organization within the next three years. He rattled off the names of eight Blacks in their farm system who should be making the big club in the near future.
“Improving the numbers in the league is a good goal, but today it’s all about getting them in college,” Lawrence said.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine and Black College Nines. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org