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Dawson pleased to lend name to collegiate tourney

HOFer was 'all on board' after idea to rebrand Urban Invitational was floated in 2017
MLB.com @DKramer_

One of the game's most respected collegiate tournaments, renowned for its recognition on diversity, is getting a rebrand to distinguish one of the most notable alumni from an affiliate program.

After 10 years as the Urban Invitational, the round-robin tournament that celebrates historically black colleges and universities will play out this weekend for the first time as the newly named Andre Dawson Classic, honoring the 21-year big leaguer, who played at Florida A&M, an HBCU institution. Dawson is one of just two HBCU Baseball alumni to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, with Lou Brock.

One of the game's most respected collegiate tournaments, renowned for its recognition on diversity, is getting a rebrand to distinguish one of the most notable alumni from an affiliate program.

After 10 years as the Urban Invitational, the round-robin tournament that celebrates historically black colleges and universities will play out this weekend for the first time as the newly named Andre Dawson Classic, honoring the 21-year big leaguer, who played at Florida A&M, an HBCU institution. Dawson is one of just two HBCU Baseball alumni to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, with Lou Brock.

"I was a product of HBCU to make it to the Hall of Fame. … For me, yes, there was a very enthusiastic opportunity, and I was all on board," Dawson said on Tuesday on MLB Network.

Dawson, who was revered for his speed-power combination as one of just five players in history to club 400 homers and steal 300 bases, said he was first approached by MLB senior director of baseball development Del Matthews about lending his name to the tournament sometime last summer.

Video: Celebrating Dawson during Black History Month

"I was kind of wowed initially, because I got to learn and understand a little bit more about the Invitational itself," Dawson said.

The Classic is one of many events affiliated with Major League Baseball's celebration of Black History Month, and it will be held at the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy, with games beginning Friday. The HBCU schools participating Alabama State University, Alcorn State University, Grambling State University, Prairie View A&M University, Southern University and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, as well as two non-HBCU schools, the University of New Orleans (UNO) and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

At least 22 players this year are alumni of MLB Youth Academies, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) programs or MLB Amateur Development camps. Over the tournament's history, 25 participants have been selected in the MLB Draft.

Among the notable figures that will be on hand this weekend include Dawson, Blue Jays outfielder Curtis Granderson, two-time All-Star Dmitri Young, 17-year veteran and current MLB Network analyst Cliff Floyd, former MLB infielder and manager and current MLB Youth Programs consultant Jerry Manuel, 10-year big league pitcher Marvin Freeman and more.

The contests on Saturday between UIC and Southern (2 p.m. ET) and Alabama State and UNO (6 p.m.) will both air on MLB Network on MLB.com. Granderson, a UIC alumni, will throw out the first pitch for the matinee.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.