TEMPE, Ariz. -- The sound of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s voice could be heard throughout the backfields of Tempe Diablo Stadium all weekend.King's "I Have a Dream" speech echoed in the batting cages and in the bullpens. His inspirational messages of hope served as the backdrop for one of
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The sound of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s voice could be heard throughout the backfields of Tempe Diablo Stadium all weekend.
King's "I Have a Dream" speech echoed in the batting cages and in the bullpens. His inspirational messages of hope served as the backdrop for one of the most important events in baseball.
"If I'm a Major League club, I'm putting the Dream Series on my calendar every year, because this is the start of their year," said Tony Reagins, MLB's executive vice president of baseball and softball development. "These kids will have a foundation to build on for their upcoming season. We think that the overall program is paying dividends, not only for Major League Baseball, but for these young kids."
The third annual Dream Series, an initiative from MLB and USA Baseball that features a diverse group of some of the nation's top high-school pitching and catching prospects, concluded Monday with batting practice, bullpen sessions and defensive drills at the Spring Training home of the Angels.
The five-day event, which is scheduled in connection with MLK Day each year, officially began Thursday with a welcome dinner. In addition to the work on the field, the event offered information on baseball career opportunities at the professional and collegiate level with daily presentations from former Major Leaguers, scouts, college administrators and MLB umpires.
The Dream Series also featured athletic assessments through Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) screenings. There was study hall every day, too.
"I think we're chipping away at what we're trying to accomplish. We're not there yet by any means, but this group of kids that we have at this camp versus when we had our first camp, the difference is tremendous," Reagins said. "The knowledge that these kids have, it's been great. From the off-the-field things that we're trying to get them to embrace, they're receptive."
The coaching staff was made up of a star-studded group that included former Major League players Tom "Flash" Gordon, Charles Johnson, Kenny Hill, Junior Spivey, LaTroy Hawkins, Darren Oliver, Marvin Freeman, Gerald Laird, Lenny Webster, Darrell Miller and Sergio Santos. Former MLB manager Jerry Manuel and former front-office executive and scout Reggie Waller also served as instructors.
Among the camp's special guests was Reds pitcher Amir Garrett. Former Major League stars Eric Davis and Dmitri Young also made appearances during the Dream Series.
"The sacrifice that Martin Luther King Jr. made for us, putting his life on the line for us, fighting for us is huge, and it's important for all these guys to understand who came before you and who paved the way and who fought for you," Spivey said. "On the baseball side of it, they're going to benefit from this, but the life lessons they're going to take from this and how to navigate the challenges coming, that's where it's really going to benefit."
Close to half the participants in this year's Dream Series have already committed to play the sport in college, and more commitments could be on the way. They will all take the lessons they learned at the Dream Series with them to the next level.
"The Dream Series has helped me with my composure and given me even more reason to work hard and play the game hard," said Christian Little, a right-handed pitcher who has committed to Vanderbilt. "I'm going to take home the lessons of Dr. King. He paved a path for us, and hopefully with hard work, I can pave a path for others to follow."
One day, the participants in the Dream Series could find themselves playing in the Andre Dawson Classic and MLB4, two college tournaments scheduled near the beginning of each year. For now, the focus is on growing as a player and a person.
"I feel like everything they taught us was valuable information, and it was coming from guys that played at the highest level," said catcher Andreus Lewis, who has committed to play at Eastern Kentucky with his twin brother Andrew, a right-hander pitcher. "I've been able to take bits and pieces from everyone, and I know it's going to help my total game. It's been tremendous for me and my development."
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.