HBCU Baseball Showcase Quickly Becoming Premier Event

More than 100 Black high school baseball players assembled to listen to Taj Bradley a top 2018 draft pick explain some of the little things he learned in rookie baseball camp this summer. Photo credit: © 2018 Harold Michael Harvey

Under patches of gray in an otherwise blue sky, on a baseball diamond in urgent need to recover from a rain storm which swept through north Georgia the day before, assembled more than 100 Black high school baseball players. Some of them traveled a few blocks to the baseball field at Westlake High School in Atlanta, Georgia. Many of them traveled several hundred miles.

One family took a red-eye out of Riverside, California 2,164 miles away so their son could display his talents to HBCU coaches. Another family drove 8 hours and one minute from St. Louis, Missouri to give their son an opportunity to woo HBCU baseball coaches.

“This is a wonderful event,” said Marvin Freeman, who played college baseball at Jackson State University and went on to become a premier relief pitcher in major league baseball.

Freeman frequently gives back to the game of baseball and his community by attending events associated with advancing and developing Black baseball players.

Former major leaguer Marvin Freeman (L) and San Diego Padres crosschecker Chip Lawrence (R)take time out from mentoring aspiring Black high school baseball players at the PRO Showcase to pose for a photograph. Photo credit: ©2018 Harold Michael Harvey

“I don’t get anything out of coming out here helping these kids. I do it because there is so much, they have to learn in order to make the jump to the big leagues,” Freeman pointed out.

Duane Sanders from Southern California said he came because he wants to see his son Daniel play baseball for an HBCU, so he can become “more involved in what is going on in the Black community.”

Daniel Sanders (L) and Duane Sanders (R) have been flying around the country in search of an HBCU baseball program that is a match for Daniel’s skill set. Photo Credits:©2018 Harold Michael Harvey

Sanders’ father played football at Miles College in the late 1930s and early 40s. He was inducted into the Miles College Hall of Fame in 1991. Last week Sanders took his son to visit Miles College in Birmingham and to visit Alabama State University in Montgomery. While at Miles, Daniel’s admission application was accepted. However, the Sanders were not able to work out before the baseball coaching staff, as the team was away from campus playing a fall game.

Raymond Straughter, Il, a construction company owner from St. Louis said that his mother wanted him to attend Tuskegee University because of the historical reputation of the school Booker T. Washington introduced to the world. Instead he went to work in his grandfather’s construction business.

Raymond Straughter, III (L) and Raymond Straughter, II (R) drove eight hours from St. Louis, Missouri to attend the 2018 HBCU Baseball showcase, so Straughter, III could showcase his baseball skills to HBCU baseball coaches. Photo credits:©2018 Harold Michael Harvey

He drove his family overnight to Atlanta, hoping that the baseball coaching staff would be in attendance and offer his son Raymond Straughter, III a baseball scholarship. Unfortunately, Tuskegee was one of the few HBCU programs not represented at the showcase.

“I came because I wanted to showcase my talent to these coaches,” Raymond Straughter, III said. “I don’t care which school offers me a scholarship. I just want a chance to play college baseball. I hope that if the coaches here can’t use me in their program, they will tell some other coach about me,” Straughter said.

Gordon Smith, a well-spoken Eagle Scout from Macon, Georgia drove the 100 miles with his dad, a public health professor at Mercer University. Three years ago, Smith’s Eagle Scout project was to identify and recognize Black baseball players from Macon, Georgia who had played in the Old Negro Leagues. He researched the history of three players and had bronze plaques made of them which were placed on display in Macon’s Luther Williams Park, the second oldest minor league baseball park ever constructed.

Gordon Smith, an Eagle Scout and avid fan of Old Negro League Baseball displayed his skills to the top HBCU baseball programs in the country during the 2018 HBCU Showcase. Photo Credit:©2018 Harold Michael Harvey

Smith said he came to the showcase to interest an HBCU in his baseball talent. “If not for baseball,” he said, “my preference would be Howard University, (Howard no longer plays baseball) but with baseball it is any HBCU where I can play baseball.”

“I like how different coaches giving their instructions telling us their perspective of baseball,” he said of his experience at the showcase.

Smith plans are to email all the coaches and “thank them for being here and go back to school and prepare for baseball in the spring.”

Dee Covey drove over from South Carolina with his mother. The stocky Tony Gwynn look alike plays outfield. He has a strong arm and a bit of pop in his bat. Covey is a veteran of baseball showcases. His family makes sure that he gets his skills viewed by the best college coaches and professional scouts in the business.

Dee Covey showing the batting form at the HBCU Showcase that he hopes will land him a Division 1 baseball scholarship. Photo credits©2018 Harold Michael Harvey

“I had fun today and learned some new things,” Covey said.

In addition to the student-athletes who are flocking to the HBCU Showcase, several cottage industries associated with youth baseball were visibly in attendance. For instance, Thomas Eaton who runs the Prolific Collegiate Post- Grad Baseball Academy “for baseball players looking to play college or pro baseball but don’t have any offers.”

“We take kids who fall through the cracks for one reason or another and teach them the game of baseball. We get them enrolled in college courses at Central Piedmont Community College. We play a 40–45 game schedule and after a year with us they are ready to play baseball on the Division 1 level,” Eaton said.

Thomas Eaton (R) and his head baseball coach at Prolific Baseball Academy taking stock of the talent during the HBCU Showcase. They expected to sign several student-athletes who are not quite ready for Division 1 baseball. Photo credit ©2018 Harold Michael Harvey

“Look at that kid over there,” Eaton said pointing to a young man about 5” 10” 215 pounds of fat. “He will probably not be offered a scholarship because of his body. We can take him in our program, shape up his body, teach him how the game is played and in one year, he will look more attractive to a Division 1 coach,” Eaton said.

Michael Thomas drove up from Florida to showcase his son to the HBCU coaches. He runs Family Creed, an organization that teaches baseball skills to 6–10-year old.

Thomas a former tennis player at South Carolina State University said, “For $60.00 I can outfit a kid from head to toe and teach him the basic baseball skills that will make him competitive with the top kids playing baseball by the time they reach 10 years of age. Beyond 10 years, and I can’t teach them, but we get them prepared to be competitive in the sport of baseball for the rest of their lives.”

An impressive list of HBCU baseball coaches turned out to asset the baseball talent at the HBCU Baseball Showcase.Photo credit:©2018 Harold Michael Harvey

There was a wide array of HBCU coaches on hand to view the talent on display. James Randall from the highly competitive program at Claflin College seems to always show up where good baseball talent is on display. His team will play an independent schedule next year as Claflin left the SIAC this year and has joined the CIAA which does not include baseball as one of its sports.

James Hattenstein head coach at Bishop State Community College is looking to sign more Black baseball players for his HBCU program. Photo credits ©2018 Harold Michael Harvey

Also, James Hattenstein from Bishop State Community College in Mobile, Alabama had his watchful eye trained on the talent on the field.

“It’s a shame that we are an HBCU school and we only have a few Black players on our team. I’m hoping to find some Black players who I can bring in to help our program out,” Hattenstein said.

The HBCU Baseball Showcase is sponsored by a foundation created by Chip Lawrence, Providing Resources and Opportunities (PRO). It is headed up by Chip Lawrence, the Cross-Checker for the San Diego Padres.

“After the success we had last year with the showcase in Atlanta, we decided to come back this year,” Lawrence said.

The two day event drew 210 enthusiastic baseball players.

Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine, Medium and Black College Nines. He can be contacted at hmharvey@haroldmichaelharvey.com

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