Inaugural Dream Series helping promote diversity
TEMPE, Ariz. -- With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s values serving as core tenets, references to King and his vision were plentiful as the inaugural Dream Series got underway.
"That's what Martin Luther King Jr. was all about," 21-year Major League veteran LaTroy Hawkins said. "He had a dream and it's taken us a long time to put that dream into effect, but hopefully one day, baseball can have a lot of faces that look like mine again, like they did in the '70s and '80s."
The Dream Series, a unique event providing exposure and development opportunities for high school pitchers and catchers, is the first of several diversity-focused events scheduled for amateurs in 2017. The event, which runs from Jan. 12-16, is free for participants and was organized by Major League Baseball, USA Baseball, USA Softball, the MLB Players Association and other partners.
Forty-eight pitchers and 16 catchers were on hand at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Friday, the first day of on-field instruction.
"I think this whole series is essential, trying to give kids of color that don't really have a huge chance, [giving them] an opportunity," Malik Freeny, a right-hander from Phoenix Country Day School, said. "We're here at the Angels Spring Training fields. Not many kids have a chance to do something like this. It's amazing."
Each day, the players spend roughly 3 1/2 hours throwing light bullpen sessions, working on pickoff moves and doing other drills. After the on-field program, the players have an hour-and-a-half of mandatory study hall and then each evening concludes with a guest speaker.
The bulk of the on-field drills is focused on mechanics, since the season is not yet underway and the instructors don't want the kids to get injured from throwing too hard.
"I think it's a great event because some of the guys that don't get as much exposure get to come here and get instruction in a setting where they don't have to play a game," Hawkins said. "They don't have to try and throw to the radar guns and do something that they're not capable of this time of year."
While on-field instruction from several former Major Leaguers -- including Hawkins, Marvin Freeman, Ken Hill, Darren Oliver, Marquis Grissom and Lenny Webster -- is extremely beneficial, the players are also benefiting from interacting with each other.
"I really, really love it here," Isaiah Bennett, a right-hander from Pine Forest High School (Fayetteville, N.C.), said. "A lot of diversity, a lot of different backgrounds and just meeting everybody and all these former greats. I love it."
Some of the participating players are eligible for the 2017 Draft and others are a few years away, but the hope is that the Dream Series, and the related camps, can eventually help increase diversity, not just on the field, but throughout the baseball industry.
"I think doing it at this time and educating these young men on MLK and what he stood for, it's called the Dream Series, which is connected to the 'I Have a Dream' speech, one of the greatest speeches in our history," Dream Series field manager Jerry Manuel said. "All of these are things that help to bring focus and emphasis and connect these kids back to the game of baseball."
Even if they don't make the Major Leagues, Manuel believes the next generation will help grow the game in some capacity.
"If they can have some part in the game, whether they do reporting or scouting, I think all this is going to help," he said.