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Dawson excited by tournament bearing his name

Formerly known as Urban Invitational, event features HBCU teams
Special to MLB.com

Andre Dawson hadn't been to New Orleans in three years.

The 6-foot-3 Hall of Famer returned Sunday to see his name plastered on shirts, programs and signs. It was Dawson's name that Major League Baseball decided to use to rebrand what was formerly known as the Urban Invitational.

Andre Dawson hadn't been to New Orleans in three years.

The 6-foot-3 Hall of Famer returned Sunday to see his name plastered on shirts, programs and signs. It was Dawson's name that Major League Baseball decided to use to rebrand what was formerly known as the Urban Invitational.

The invitational, now known as the Andre Dawson Classic, is an annual round-robin tournament set up to showcase historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), broadcast live on MLB Network and MLB.com. The idea to name the tournament after Dawson was fostered by MLB senior vice president of youth programs Tony Reagins and senior director of baseball development Del Matthews.

? Andre Dawson Classic coverage

The two felt it was important to put a face on the tournament, and they wanted someone with a strong connection to HBCUs and a name that people recognized to create a new buzz around it. Dawson fit the bill as an alumnus of Florida A&M and an eight-time All-Star who won Rookie of the Year in 1977 and MVP in 1987.

Dawson called the opportunity for the tournament to be named after him "exciting" and said he didn't know what to expect originally.

"For me, it's an honor to support an HBCU program," Dawson said. "And I look at this as an opportunity to be further involved and help these individuals be empowering and later on with this opportunity become community leaders."

There was no hesitation on Dawson's part to accept the offer, and he hopes with his name, he can help the under-the-radar players of HBCUs get exposure to Major League clubs.

"There are a million kids that have hopes and aspirations of trying to get to the professional level," Dawson said. "To be a source that they can look at and know, 'Hey, if it happened to this particular individual, there's hope.'"

Hope is what Matthews and Reagins are trying to instill in African-American youth players by bringing Dawson to the forefront and attempting to increase the popularity of MLB Youth Academies that serve cities as a site of free baseball instruction.

Reagins said it is important to not forget those who paved the way for black players in the game, and that Dawson's name and legacy is a good fit for what he and his team are trying to accomplish by creating exposure and awareness for HBCUs and players involved with those teams and youth academies.

"That's important because the kids that go to this academy, they need to see people that look like them playing at a higher level so one day they're thinking, 'I can be that guy that is on TV' or 'I'm that guy to be a part of an HBCU program or a college program in general,'" said Reagins, whose job is to help expand youth participation in baseball. "For us, getting kids to college is the big win. To get to pro ball, that's icing on the cake, but we want to get our kids in college, and this why we do this tournament."

From the responses Reagins has received from the participating coaches, this year's Classic has been a success. He said coaches have told him they would like to return year after year, and that is the type of response he wants to hear.

Now his goal is to expand the reach of the Classic and make it a premier event for college baseball with the help of Dawson and MLB Network.

"Being inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame, you kind of see your career come full circle and you're rewarded with those accolades accumulated over longevity," said Dawson, who complimented MLB on the job it's doing with youth programs. "To have this kind of honor bestowed upon you amongst people that are your contemporaries or people that run the game, to me that is a little bit more important.

"This is right up there [with being inducted into the Hall of Fame]. This is something that is national now. These kids get to get national exposure, and to have my name attached to it, I'm very excited to be associated with it."

Brandon Adam is a contributor to MLB.com.