VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The Elite Development Invitational is in its fourth year of operation, bringing aspiring young players together to help them realize their dreams of becoming big league players. Of the approximately 195 EDI alumni who graduated high school in 2017 and '18, more than half are either playing in the Minors or at the college level. Eight were selected in the '17 MLB Draft, including first-rounder Hunter Greene (Cincinnati), and 12 more were selected in the '18 Draft.
But this opportunity of a lifetime wouldn't be possible without the generosity of former Major League players, coaches and managers who are giving their time to pass along their experience and knowledge of the game.
• More info about the Elite Development Invitational
More than 120 players, ages 13-14, from 17 states and Washington, D.C., and with diverse backgrounds were invited to Historic Dodgertown to participate in the second week (July 28-Aug. 1) of the 2018 EDI program, which is operated by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball in partnership with the Major League Baseball Players Association. The first week ran from July 21-25.
It is the pinnacle of baseball's diversity-focused amateur development camps (including the Breakthrough Series & DREAM Series). Players for EDI were selected by a combination of groups, including 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 Scouts and individual active and former players.
Instructors included nearly two dozen former Major Leaguers, like Eric Davis, Marquis Grissom, Tom Gordon and Reggie Smith. Former big league managers Jerry Manuel and Willie Randolph were also included in that group of mentors, who realize the importance of the event.
"I give back because I know that there's a lack. And what the game has given me, I don't want to take it with me. I want it to be given to someone else and added to what I gave them. That's my purpose for being here," said Manuel.
Catcher Christian Dunn is one of the many young players reaping the rewards. Dunn said he's been afforded key information from position coach and former Marlins World Series champion Charles Johnson that he hasn't received to this point. From foot positioning when fielding a throw from the outfield to the proper way to receive a pitch, Dunn said he's been given thorough and specific training from the former big league player.
"I wouldn't learn those things anywhere else except with him," said Dunn. "It's fun to be coached by a pro-ball catcher. It touches my heart to be coached by him."
Dunn added that he did his homework on the former Major Leaguer prior to arriving at Vero Beach from his home in Olive Branch, Miss.
"I looked him up and how many baserunners he's thrown out, his average. He played a long time in the big leagues," Dunn said. "It's fun to be around all these coaches and players."
Center fielder Justice Hayes, from Atlanta, Ga., is another example of a young player at EDI who, because of the willingness of former big leaguers to give back, is gaining invaluable experience.
"Chopping your feet when you're going for a ground ball to get a stronger throw on it, I used to just run right through it," Hayes said. "That helped a lot. It's a great experience. I'm very fortunate to be here, being around great kids -- talented kids."
For Manuel, the former White Sox and Mets manager, he's in his element and more than willing to pass on his experiences.
"This is my space," Manuel said. "I'm happy in this space. When you see that look in a kid's eye, that's really rewarding for me. I can't be paid for that type of feeling. My heart is just overflowing with joy when I can see a kid from a rural area that hasn't heard some of the things that we're talking about; it hasn't been available or hasn't been able to afford a showcase opportunity.
"But then to teach him and say, 'Hey, this is how you go about it,' and the light goes on and he's able to go out there and do it, that's probably one of the greatest feelings in the world for me. That's just the way I see life."
The EDI has been as fulfilling for Manuel as it has been for the many who have participated in the event over the past four years.
"I think that whatever you have, feed it to the next generation," Manuel said. "And then they take it and do what they have to do with it. Hopefully it flowers and then you've got fruit. That's all I want."