VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Tony Reagins, Major League Baseball's senior vice president for youth programs, takes pride in the direction the game is headed.Attending the Elite Development Invitational in Historic Dodgertown, Reagins noted the progress that baseball is making in its attempt to grow participation among young African-Americans. The majority
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Tony Reagins, Major League Baseball's senior vice president for youth programs, takes pride in the direction the game is headed.
Attending the Elite Development Invitational in Historic Dodgertown, Reagins noted the progress that baseball is making in its attempt to grow participation among young African-Americans. The majority of the 131 players at the EDI, in addition to being multi-sport athletes, are African-American.
"We're starting to reach out and integrate programs, get more kids involved in urban areas," Reagins said. "The momentum that we're gathering is important -- it's starting, it's going to take time, and we understand that. We're going to be patient and contribute to those types of programs."
Formerly the general manager of the Los Angeles Angels, Reagins landed one of the game's marquee black players within his first month as GM, signing All-Star outfielder Torii Hunter in November 2007.
While working as the Angels' director of player development, Reagins also helped African-American infielders Howie Kendrick and Chone Figgins reach the big leagues. Reagins works alongside Del Matthews, MLB's senior director of baseball development and the younger brother of ex-Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr.
Former general manager Omar Minaya, who helped lead the Mets to the 2006 National League Championship Series, echoed Reagins' thoughts on the importance of EDI, an effort wholeheartedly supported by Commissioner Rob Manfred.
"The game is changing -- the game has always evolved and changed," said Minaya, who is now with the Major League Baseball Players Association. "The resources that we provide, like Ken Griffey Jr. (who addressed the EDI earlier in the week), having him be able to speak to these kids ... it's just communication and being able to communicate to these kids."
Both Reagins and Minaya hope their efforts and resources will help increase African-American participation in the big leagues.
When Reagins took over the Angels in 2007, 8.5 percent of Major League players were African-American. At the start of this season, 7.1 percent of players on Opening Day rosters were African-American, though participation among Latin American and Asian players is on the upswing. Events like the EDI, Reagins emphasized, can help.
"It just makes a whole lot of sense to have these kids meet in rooms where Dodger greats met," Reagins said. "Sleep in the same bedrooms that those legends slept. What [Dodgertown] meant in a time where people of color, specifically African-Americans, couldn't really leave this facility ... being able to share that knowledge with these kids is special."
Also at Dodgertown was MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, who emphasized the need for baseball to continue its efforts. The former All-Star believes programs like the EDI -- which began in 2015 -- will help gravitate young black men toward the sport, and he hopes that the baseball world as a whole embraces that goal.
"There needs to be a commitment made by those making the decisions to engage those who are equipped and available," Clark said. "There's a lot of talk and a lot of concern out there, but getting down in the trenches and where you're affecting change at the ground-root level is a positive."
Reagins also noted that while many of the attending players are likely multi-sport athletes, the point of the EDI is not to discourage players from adding a fall or winter sport in addition to baseball in the spring.
"We think that we have an opportunity to do something really special," Reagins said. "You see a guy like Hunter Greene getting drafted [second overall by the Reds], and he was in this program three years ago. Hopefully, guys like that will continue to come out of this program and play at the highest level."
Jake Elman is a contributor to MLB.com based in Vero Beach, Fla.