TEMPE, Ariz. -- Kevari Thunderbird and Brandon Stinson are teammates in high school and with the Chicago Youth Academy Aces travel ball team. This Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, the two of them, along with three other Youth Academy teammates -- Sir Jamison Jones, Justyn Hart and Dillon Head -- are together once again for the DREAM Series.
The DREAM Series is an event hosted during MLK Day weekend focused on highlighting and diversifying the talent pool of pitchers and catchers -- two positions that lack much Black representation at the Major League level.
For this group of Chicago-area players, they’re excited to go through the DREAM Series together and experience an event like this geared toward Black players like themselves.
“It's just really cool, because we are accomplishing the same goals,” Thunderbird said. “We’ve got the same one, and that’s to get drafted. We all come with the same mindset, just to work hard and get better every day. Everywhere we go, just being from Chicago, it’s a blessing. That’s really what it is.”
Head, a center fielder who is ranked the No. 40 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Draft Top 100, emphasized the importance of the event, especially being able to hone in on his skills entering his senior season of high school. He takes pride in being a “no-fly zone” type of outfielder, and being among players and coaches of this caliber helps him develop each day.
“We get to be around the top guys in the country, the best coaches that previously played pro ball,” Head said. “Great experience, great to get your work in for me. Just taking it all in. … I’m just getting better, being more of a student of the game -- learning from all these top coaches, all the advice they have to give to us, all the knowledge.”
For all the learning and growth the players get from the coaches throughout the events, what almost matters even more is them learning from each other and being able to grow and develop these relationships, even outside of their Chicago teammates.
“Being here is a gift,” Hart said. “It’s an opportunity for me to show my talent and be exposed for it, almost. I’m just grateful to be here and have this opportunity. … We [bounce ideas off each other] a lot. Whenever we start sparking conversation in the bullpen, in the dugout, we take little things from each other and learn from it.”
All the participants emphasized the importance the Youth Academy and other MLB Develops events, like the Hank Aaron Invitational and RBI World Series, have in their own personal development as Black baseball players.
“Being around people who have done it before me and [who] know the ins and outs of the game, it helps me become a better player, so that when I get there, I know what to do and when to do it,” said Jameison Jones, a catcher committed to Illinois State. “Learning from the coaches throughout all the MLB Develops camps I’ve been to, it just helps me expand my game to the next level.”