44 youth hit field to honor Aaron's legacy 

Standouts from Hank Aaron Invitational selected to play showcase game at Truist Park

July 31st, 2021

As the sun set on the Hank Aaron Invitational, approximately 100 participants walked away from the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Fla., as different players. After a week of elite training, they were now better prepared to navigate the landscapes of college and professional baseball -- both on and off the field.

For 44 of them, the journey wasn’t quite over yet.

The top performing players from Week 2 of the Hank Aaron Invitational were selected to play a showcase game at Truist Park, home of the Atlanta Braves, on Saturday. The 44 players -- chosen in honor of the number that Aaron wore throughout his Hall of Fame career -- were split into Team Hank Aaron and Team Jackie Robinson.

The high school-age players represent 16 states and Puerto Rico, including five from the greater Atlanta area. Among the five is shortstop/pitcher Antonio Anderson, a Georgia Tech commit who looked forward to showing the home crowd what he can do.

“I’m glad to be playing for Hank Aaron,” Anderson said, “and I’m glad to go back to my hometown and play in the home stadium.”

The showcase game offered more than a chance to play on a big league field for outfielder Elgin Bennett, who played for Team Aaron. The University of Illinois commit from Georgia was inspired by representing the all-time greats who paved the way for him to play baseball. 

“It’s very significant for me, myself, with everything they’ve been teaching us about Jackie and Hank Aaron,” Bennett said. “I just feel like it’s inviting me even more to work harder and just show people what I can do on and off the baseball field.” 

Marvin Freeman, who spent nearly half of his 10-year career in Atlanta, served as an on-field coach during the Invitational and said he felt that the players walked away with meaningful information. 

“It’s just been everything that we are in coaching for,” Freeman said. “We want to pass on to the next generation the things that we’ve learned -- the mistakes we’ve made, some of the successes that we’ve had -- and hopefully they can avoid some of those pitfalls and traps that we had to go through -- and leapfrog over that and be a little more successful without going through those same things.”

Former Major Leaguers Lou Collier and Marquis Grissom managed Team Robinson and Team Aaron, respectively. Collier, who also coached at the Invitational, said he was excited to see the players get their first experience on a big league field.

“I just remember when I was a kid and I got a chance to play on a big league field -- that was the day I made the decision that I was going to play in the big leagues,” Collier said. “You never know what that can do to a kid, just having those opportunities.” 

For Team Aaron catcher Israel Delgado, a Missouri commit from Chicago, the chance to play on the ultimate stage means even more. 

“Seeing my family watching me play -- my dad’s really sick right now and I don’t know how much time he’s got,” Delgado said, “so I just want him to see me play on a big league field and it’ll just be super exciting to play.”