Stars out in Houston to open first HBCU Classic

February 17th, 2023

HOUSTON -- At 58 years old, former A's slugger Jose Canseco is far from his athletic prime. But he, along with many other greats from Major League Baseball and beyond, tapped into the past on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.

The legends were brought together by rapper Travis Scott and his Cactus Jack Foundation, in conjunction with Project H.E.A.L, to participate in a celebrity softball classic and home run derby. All of the event’s ticket proceeds benefit the Waymon Webster Scholarship Fund, which provides financial support to seniors at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The derby featured three former MLB players in Canseco, Nick Swisher and Gary Sheffield, along with Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens. Canseco and Swisher finished tied for the lead with 10 homers apiece in two minutes, with Canseco eventually winning courtesy of a sudden-death playoff.

“I’m getting too old for this,” Canseco quipped after winning.

But the legends were just getting started. The softball game featured a loaded lineup of athletes and A-list entertainers, such as former MLB outfielder Shane Victorino; the NBA’s Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis; Andre Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Vince Young from the NFL; and entertainers like Scott and Metro Boomin.

Initially proving Canseco’s point, McGrady ripped a two-run double off a pitching Canseco in the game’s first inning. But an inning later, Canseco blasted a massive bomb as part of a nine-run frame for his team.

Ultimately, the biggest winners were students from HBCUs, including players on six active baseball teams that will participate in a round-robin collegiate tournament on the same field this weekend. According to Daryl Wade, Astros Urban Youth Academy director, this is believed to be the first time for six HBCU baseball programs to play a tournament at a Major League ballpark.

On Thursday, players and coaches from those schools were among thousands of fans watching from the stands. As for competitive baseball, the tournament begins Friday morning with Prairie View A&M vs. Grambling State University. Other events at the ballpark, headlined by a college fair and a gospel breakfast, will complement the tournament.

“I'm happy that Houston is able to be one of the first cities to expose historically Black colleges in this realm,” said Francis, who credited playing softball as a child with bolstering his athletic development. “Hopefully, this is a bridge to get baseball into a lot of African American households.”

Astros third baseman , who won the 2022 World Series on that same field last November, showed his support by serving as an honorary bench coach.

“It’s awesome,” said Bregman, who reports to Spring Training with the Astros in the coming days. “It’s great to be here, and I’m so thankful to Travis [Scott] for having us out. I’m super fortunate to be around so many people that I respect, and to have some great fans here, too.”

Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, working now as special advisor to Astros owner Jim Crane, was a constant presence throughout the day in welcoming players and fans to the ballpark -- including an emcee stint on the big screen during softball activity. Expect more of that over the weekend, along with a spotlight on other Black History Month initiatives from the organization.

“I've been around 50 years in the big leagues, and I've never seen this many young African American players together,” said Jackson, whose iconic “Reggie!” chocolate bar is now being offered to fans at Minute Maid Park. “I’m so excited, I’ve been looking forward to this for months. I’m grateful and thankful to be here. It really is something special."