NEW ORLEANS -- The current tournament showcasing baseball teams from mostly Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) is in its 12th year, but it was only a year ago when Major League Baseball decided to give it a new name, to honor one of the game's greatest.That namesake -- Hall
NEW ORLEANS -- The current tournament showcasing baseball teams from mostly Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) is in its 12th year, but it was only a year ago when Major League Baseball decided to give it a new name, to honor one of the game's greatest.
That namesake -- Hall of Famer Andre Dawson -- was on site at the MLB New Orleans Youth Academy on Saturday, eager to mingle with the participants at the Andre Dawson Classic. The pool of eight teams participating in the Classic includes his alma mater, Florida A&M University, which lost, 11-2, to Eastern Kentucky University later that evening.
"I'm excited about them being here, excited about tonight and excited about the fact that all these kids get this opportunity," Dawson said in an interview with MLB.com. "It's been 12 years now and the program continues to get better. I'm happy that I can be associated and a part of it."
"Hawk" attended FAMU from 1973-75 before he was drafted by the Expos during his junior season. He went on to enjoy a 21-year Major League career that concluded in 1996, and he was honored 14 years later when he inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010.
One of only two baseball Hall of Famers from HBCU schools (the other is Lou Brock, who attended Southern University), Dawson can relate to today's Classic participants, in that he, too, was given an opportunity by an HBCU school, and, as is the case with most college baseball players, he did not receive a scholarship to play.
• Diversity showcased at Andre Dawson Classic
Dawson appreciates the efforts by MLB to host tournaments like the current one that bears his name. Many of the participants were once part of one of MLB's development programs, which have become another avenue from which college coaches recruit. Several athletes currently playing for HBCU schools were discovered this way.
"The kids are trying to continue to play the game at the next level," Dawson said. "Being given an opportunity to make that maybe one last effort to chase a dream. I was one of these kids. I didn't have a scholarship. Baseball at the college level provided for me another opportunity and gave me the opportunity to go through the Draft and make it as a big league ballplayer."
Dawson's journey as a Major League player and eventual Hall of Famer is, obviously, not the path that most young athletes take. Everyone strives to play professional baseball, of course, but few are going to secure careers as pro athletes. That's where MLB takes its development programs to the next level -- a necessary, essential level that helps athletes find careers post-graduation.
These types of programs were not available to past generations of athletes, especially in terms of the diversity and inclusion that is so much at the forefront of MLB's modern-day initiatives. Dawson, who moved into a front-office role with the Marlins soon after he retired as a player, is appreciative of the assistance today's young athletes are receiving.
"You are chasing a dream [to play professionally], but it only happens for a hand-select few," Dawson said. "You have to really know that and understand, what is your outlet? What do you have if this doesn't work out?
"It's fun, it can be a life changer and hopefully the exposure that these young men get as a result of this weekend is going to just go beyond being able to perform in this tournament this weekend."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.