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MLK's spirit rings strong at Dream Series

'I want these young men to have a connection to what Martin went through,' Manuel says
MLB.com @JesseSanchezMLB

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The famous words could be heard on the back fields at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

The message echoed on the main field and in the batting cages.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The famous words could be heard on the back fields at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

The message echoed on the main field and in the batting cages.

Former manager Jerry Manuel's inspirational playlist during the Dream Series included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech set to light jazz and helped set the tone for the five-day event for baseball dreamers that concludes Monday. The speech used to be Manuel's cell phone ring tone.

Video: Jerry Manuel on Martin Luther King Jr., Dream Series

"Dr. King. That's my guy," Manuel said. "A lot of his dream has been fulfilled, but it wouldn't have been if he hadn't gone and done what he did, stepping out in the spirit in which he stepped out. I want these young men to have a connection to what Martin went through to give us the progression that we've made as human beings."

Manuels impacting Dream Series participants

Video: Manuel family connecting with kids at Dream Series

Dr. King spoke of the struggles of African-Americans and his dreams of equality for the future on that memorable day in 1963. His message resonated during the Dream Series, an initiative of Major League Baseball and USA Baseball that features a diverse group of some of the nation's top high school pitching and catching prospects. The series began on Thursday.

"Some of them have the knowledge, some of them know what Dr. King meant -- but we're implementing it in a different way, whether it be on the field, in bullpen sessions, the music in the background, the speeches, or Jerry Manuel giving a presentation on Dr. King," said Tony Reagins, MLB senior vice president of youth programs. "There are a lot of different avenues you can take in this game. For me, myself, the path that I took off the field. We have scouts, we have coaches, big league players, All-Stars, Major League managers. It's important they see that."

Video: Reagins hoping to give youth the MLB experience

The series -- which is connected to Martin Luther King Jr. Day and concludes on the holiday -- includes on-hand coaching from former players, presentations on baseball-career opportunities on the professional and collegiate levels, and athletic assessments through the Prospect Development Pipeline Premier Events.

Video: Manuel, Hawkins and Gordon teach at Dream Series

"This is everything Dr. Martin Luther King stood for, the equality, and just giving these kids a chance to get some of the exposure that the other kids get and they don't get," said former Major League pitcher LaTroy Hawkins, who is one of the Dream Series coaches. "It's about empowering these kids. Even if they don't go on to play professional baseball, we are trying to make an impact on their lives, not just for their baseball career, but for the rest of their lives."

Youth pitchers, catchers live the 'Dream'

In addition to Hawkins, the coaching staff featured former MLB All-Stars Tom "Flash" Gordon, Charles Johnson, Ken Hill, Junior Spivey and Marquis Grissom. Former pitchers Darren Oliver and Pat Mahomes, Manuel and former MLB front-office executive Reggie Waller and others have also worked with the teens daily.

"[Dr. King] had a dream that everybody was going to be together, and this kind of proves it," Mahomes said. "In the end, we're all just playing baseball and we're all just brothers, and that's the message we try to portray to them."

Grissom, who grew up in Atlanta, has a deep connection to Dr. King's legacy. King's lessons were taught in the former outfielder's home. An inspired Grissom has dedicated his life to coaching youth full-time since he retired in 2006 after a 17-year playing career.

Tweet from @MLBPipeline: "He gets sick of hearing it from me, but when you get a chance to hear it from 10 or 15 other guys, hopefully something might stick." Marquis Grissom Sr., a 17-year @MLB vet, on his 16-year-old son, who is participating in the Dream Series: https://t.co/p6t4xILZop pic.twitter.com/bqtWPJk0tD

"I learned that equality, integrity, what's right, what's wrong, and in becoming older -- not just becoming a professional baseball player but even when I went off to college -- I just wanted to know what could I bring to the table to make a difference and an impact on our community," Grissom said. "And when I say 'our community,' I mean all communities, not just the African-American community. I'm all about teaching and educating all of baseball, not just in the African-American community, not just black kids, not just Latino kids, but all kids."

Video: Grissom and Grissom Jr. attend the Dream Series

"What we are doing here right now is highlighting those guys that have the opportunity, making sure they are prepared, making sure they have all the knowledge and the tools that they need to have success at the next level," said Anthony Manuel, a Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) regional coordinator for MLB and a coach during the event. "I think this advantage is a primetime opportunity for a lot of these guys to put themselves on the map."

The event is also an opportunity for the teens to have fun and build lifelong friendships.

"For people to come here and celebrate MLK weekend with young African-American pitchers and catchers in an MLB setting, MLB environment, with the coaching and instruction we have, it really sets the foundation," said Del Matthews, MLB's senior director of baseball development. "This gives the kids inspiration for the start of their seasons, and hopefully it's something where we can inspire these kids to continue to play those positions and really take to it."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.