Playing against old teammates and friends leads to healthy competition and smack talk, but the buzz quieted as Team Blue shut out Team White 3-0 in the Braves' fourth annual 44 Classic scrimmage on Sunday at Truist Park.
The event, named in honor of club legend Hank Aaron -- who wore No. 44 -- furthers his legacy to increase diversity in baseball by highlighting top, diverse high school baseball talent from the Southeast, including players from the Braves’ RBI Fall Development Program. This is the first year that the event was held at Truist Park.
"I feel like we see it every day when you turn on the TV, you don't see that many Black players in MLB right now or just other minorities in general," Tysen Benford, a senior from Georgia Premier Academy, said. "To be given an opportunity to get almost a pedestal to play at this level, it gives me the inspiration to be the next Black player in the MLB or the next Black superstar that younger kids can look up to. It's a wonderful opportunity."
The competition was high throughout, but the pivotal aspect of the event was allowing players of color to highlight their abilities in front of college and professional scouts.
"This is the biggest stage that you can be on," said Marquis Grissom, president and founder of the Marquis Grissom Baseball Association and a former Major Leaguer, about playing at Truist Park. "I think most of these guys really appreciate that moment. You could tell that some of the kids were a little nervous about just being at Truist Park. And not only that, you've got to go up against some pretty good competition. It's definitely a great experience for these guys and an opportunity to continue to grow the game."
Team Blue was led by a dominant pitching staff. Benford, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound right-hander, started the pace. He threw the first two innings and faced seven batters, allowing no hits and one hit-by-pitch, striking out four.
Behind solid pitching, Team Blue's offense got to work early. Benford walked and his pinch-runner, Terrence Kiel II, a junior from Pace Academy high, stole second. Quickly after, Adriel Martinez, a senior catcher from Redan High, notched his first hit of the game with an RBI single in the second inning. Martinez, who ended the day with two hits, also threw out a runner trying to steal third in the bottom half.
"When I go out there I don't try to think of it as a huge moment, just another day, just another game, and just do my best," Martinez said. "Control what I can control, not try to do too much and just be me."
The offense for Team Blue was able to tack on two more runs behind a leadoff double by Jackson State commit Tyshon Patty, a pair of errors and a sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Both pitching staffs held the opposing bats scoreless after the fourth, but Team White's pitchers and Team Blue's batters had to tip their caps to the defensive showcase that Ali Banks, a Georgia Highlands commit, put on in center field. The senior from Parkview High emulated Braves rookie phenom Michael Harris II, who also came through the 44 Classic, by making a diving play, a sliding grab and running over 100 feet to get to a ball in the gap in right-center field.
Each play saved at least one more run from scoring for Team Blue. Banks also tallied one of his team's two hits.
"I was thinking about the highlight reel and the plays that [Harris] has made here and how I was making them in the same place," Banks said. "That guy's a big inspiration to me because he just gets after it every time.
"Honestly, I think it was really fun to see what everybody could do. Growing up with everybody, seeing everybody progress and be successful at what we're doing."
While Team Blue will walk away with bragging rights, the opportunity to play where their inspirations and role models have played trumped the game outcome.
"I'm still soaking it all in," said Sam Parker, a senior at Kennesaw Mountain High and winner of Saturday's home run derby. "It's not every day that 17-,18-year-olds get to play on this field. So any moment we get just to look around and stop and see the moment that we're in, it's a great opportunity."