LOS ANGELES -- Commissioner Rob Manfred announced on Friday that one of Major League Baseball's most important youth initiatives will be renamed in honor of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. In addition, the program will be expanded to be part of Hank Aaron Week at SunTrust Park in Atlanta next
LOS ANGELES -- Commissioner Rob Manfred announced on Friday that one of Major League Baseball's most important youth initiatives will be renamed in honor of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. In addition, the program will be expanded to be part of Hank Aaron Week at SunTrust Park in Atlanta next summer.
Manfred and Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark made the joint announcement with Aaron before Game 3 of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Dodgers.
The program, previously known as the Elite Development Invitational, will now be known as the Hank Aaron Invitational. The event is a five-day camp for approximately 250 high school-age kids each summer at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. It's designed to hone baseball and life skills and provide information on college eligibility.
"It's kind of the crown jewel of all of our youth programs," Manfred said. "Hundreds of racially diverse high school-age players have participated in the program. And it's a Spring Training type of environment and experience for really talented young players."
As part of Hank Aaron Week in Atlanta, 44 of the top players -- to signify Aaron's number -- will be chosen to play a game at the Braves' new home. That week includes baseball's Diversity Business Summit as well as cultural activities that emphasize the role of Atlanta in the civil rights movement.
Among the former Major League players and managers who've served as instructors at Dodgertown since the program's inception in 2015: Ken Griffey Jr., Dave Winfield, Eric Davis, Reggie Smith, Marquis Grissom, Tom Gordon, Jerry Manuel and Bo Porter.
The MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation covers all costs for the players.
"I'm humbled to have this program named in my honor and thrilled the showcase game will be played at SunTrust Park," Aaron said. "I applaud MLB and the Braves in their efforts to continue to assist with outreach so that opportunities are available to all."
Participants in the Hank Aaron Invitational are selected from the MLB Youth Academy network, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association, USA Baseball, the Buck O'Neil Scouts Association, MLB Clubs & Scouts and individual active and former players.
More than 100 alumni of the program are either playing professionally in Minor League systems or at the collegiate level. Among the notable alumni: Hunter Greene of the Reds, Osiris Johnson of the Marlins, Taj Bradley of the Rays and Bryce Bush of the White Sox.
"We think over the last four years we made great strides in terms of youth participation," Manfred said. "Baseball has been the fastest growing [youth sport] and is the most played sport by kids under 12.
"I think equally important, the programs have helped us on the diversity front. If you look at the first round of our Draft the last five years, 20 percent of the players are African-American. We only have eight percent in the big leagues right now. So that's a good number for us. It portends well for the future."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.