NEWPORT COAST, Calif. -- On a picturesque day in sunny Southern California, several current and former MLB players teed it up at Pelican Hill Golf Club for the annual Celebrity Golf Invitational to benefit the MLB Youth Academy in Compton.
Former Major League outfielders Gary Matthews Jr. and Torii Hunter, who were teammates on the Angels from 2008-09, hosted the event for the sixth straight year. They were joined by a long list of current and former MLB players/managers, including Trevor Hoffman, Mike Scioscia, Ron Roenicke, Adam Jones, Jacque Jones, Brady Anderson, Mark Gubicza, Chuck Finley, Garret Anderson, Eric Chavez, Mickey Hatcher, Darren Oliver, James Loney and both Jerry Hairston Jr. and Jerry Hairston Sr.
MLB chief baseball development officer and former Angels GM Tony Reagins, MLB vice president of baseball development Del Matthews and MLB vice president of youth and facility development Darrell Miller were also on hand and helped put together the event.
“Major League Baseball and the MLB Development Department give us the opportunity to do this,” Matthews said. “They do the marketing for it, and they do all the heavy lifting behind the scenes. But we're all doing it for a common goal, which is to create opportunities for these young men and young women to go to college and to try and make their dreams come true. Obviously, they're learning amazing lessons through sport and lessons that I'm still applying to my life today.”
Miller, who has had a huge impact in helping create the Youth Academy in Compton and other MLB Academies across the nation, said the tournament raises funds specifically targeting the academic side for the youth who utilize the academy. The Youth Academy in Compton opened in 2006 and serves children throughout the greater Los Angeles area, particularly those from underserved communities, offering baseball and softball instruction as well as resources to aid off-the-field development.
“It’s priceless to have this kind of support,” Miller said. “I love that we’re able to raise funds for the right reasons and that’s for educational support for those who come to our academies. We’re really evolving and trying to take care of business in that regard. So it’s not just the educational support, like we do with Science of Baseball from a STEM perspective, but about SAT prep and getting these kids to college on a regular basis.”
Compton was the first to open, but MLB now has Youth Academies in Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., while also partnering with Curtis Granderson’s academy in Chicago and with the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School in Gurabo.
Hunter said he’s proud to raise money for the Youth Academies because of what they’re able to provide to youngsters, especially in underserved areas. He said he wished he would’ve had access to a facility like that while growing up in Arkansas, and he's proud of what MLB has been able to do with their Academies, especially in Compton. Several current Major Leaguers such as Hunter Greene, Vince Velasquez, J.P. Crawford, Dominic Smith, Aaron Hicks, Kyle Higashioka and Dillon Tate are alums of the Youth Academy in Compton.
“We want to help these kids do greater things than us,” Hunter said. “A lot of different players came through that academy in Compton and reached the Majors. Hunter Greene went through there and now he's the man pitching in the big leagues. So when you see stories like that, that's what it's all about. And it’s not just about getting to big leagues, baseball just teaches you so many life lessons.”
Current Academy participant Malakai Pruitt, who was recently named the Compton Academy’s “Youth of the Year,” also gave a touching speech to those at the tournament, expressing what the Academy has meant to him over the years. He first started going there when he was 5 years old; he’s now 14 and a freshman at nearby Long Beach Poly High School. A pitcher and a shortstop, Pruitt has dreams to go to college and play baseball as far as it will take him.
“It’s just like a brotherhood and like a family,” Pruitt said. “I’ve been going there since I was 5, and they treat me like family. It’s just a cool place to play baseball. I was able to play in the RBI World Series and even travel to Seattle for the RBI Regional tournament. It really is just like a family.”