NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Much of the Southern California baseball community gathered at Newport Beach Country Club on Monday to help support the next generation of athletes coming up behind them.
A number of former and current Major Leaguers took to the links for this year's Celebrity Golf Invitational, which benefits the MLB Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. Former All-Stars Torii Hunter and Gary Matthews Jr. co-hosted the event at the Newport Beach Country Club for a second consecutive year.
Hunter assumed hosting duties for the annual fundraiser from Hall of Famer Frank Robinson beginning in 2016, and partnered with Matthews, his former Angels teammate, in '17. Proceeds from the event will support the academy through the nonprofit Major League Baseball Youth Foundation.
"It's something that's near and dear to my heart," Hunter said. "Everything they have to offer at the academy is something that I stand for."
The MLB Youth Academy in Compton aims to expand baseball's reach in communities where kids might not otherwise have access to the facilities, equipment and instruction required to play the sport. The facility spans 20 acres of the Compton College campus and features multiple playing fields, training areas, batting cages and pitching mounds. It offers free year-round baseball and softball instruction as well as educational resources and programs such as SAT and ACT prep courses and tutoring.
Since the Compton academy opened its doors in 2006, more than 500 of its student-athletes have gone on to play collegiate softball or baseball and more than 160 have been drafted by MLB clubs, including last year's No. 2 pick, Hunter Greene, the Reds' third-ranked prospect (No. 22 overall), per MLB Pipeline. Greene, who started going to the academy when he was 7 years old, attended Monday's event but couldn't play because he's rehabbing an ulnar collateral ligament sprain this offseason.
"I remember I was looking down on him, now he's looking down on me," said Ken Landreaux, a former All-Star outfielder who won a World Series with the Dodgers in 1981 and has been an instructor at the academy since it opened. "You don't ever want to forget where you started. Life's a cycle. They've gotten a helping hand, and hopefully they turn around and they present a helping hand."
Like many academy alumni, Greene jumped at the opportunity to support the place that was so important to his development. The academy has now produced several Major Leaguers -- including the Yankees' Aaron Hicks and Kyle Higashioka, the Mets' Dominic Smith, the A's Khris Davis and the Phillies' J.P. Crawford and Vince Velasquez -- and they maintain an active presence at the facility and in the community.
"For me, it's really easy to give back because it's the people I care about, that I love and appreciate, who helped me get here," said Greene, who fondly recalled playing alongside several future big leaguers as a child. "To be around those guys and be able to get that mentorship at that age when I was young, it helped me not just to be a good baseball player, but a good person as well."
"To whom much is given, much is expected," said Trayce Thompson, who went to the academy as a teenager. A Southern California native, Thompson played two seasons with the Dodgers from 2016-17 and is currently a free agent after splitting the 2018 campaign between the A's and White Sox.
"You're supposed to give back and do what you can to help kids out, especially the kids at the academy. Most of them aren't as fortunate as I was growing up with my dad [former NBA player Mychal Thompson] being who he was. I try to give back as much as I can, because I remember when I was a kid -- the gesture goes really far."
The Compton academy was the first such facility built by MLB, and seven more have since opened in Cincinnati, Dallas, Gurabo (Puerto Rico), Houston, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Three more are in development in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
"I think [the academy] sends a strong message that we care," said former Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who touted his foursome with Red Sox bench coach Ron Roenicke, former Dodgers teammate Mickey Hatcher and Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey as the team to beat. "This is one piece of the pie. We've got to continue to grow and continue to give kids opportunities all over the country. ... We need to build fields, we need to go out there and get kids excited about baseball."
Others in attendance included MLB executive vice president of baseball and softball development and former Angels general manager Tony Reagins; MLB vice president for youth and facility development, director of the Compton academy and former Angel Darrell Miller; and former Major Leaguers Kenny Lofton, Chuck Finley, Bob Boone, Garret Anderson, Shawn Green, Mark Gubicza, Derrek Lee, Vince Coleman, Dmitri Young, Gary Matthews Sr., Darren Oliver, Jerry Hairston Jr., Jerry Hairston Sr., Brett Tomko and Sergio Santos.
"All the guys that are here, they want to be here. We didn't beg them," Hunter said. "They wanted to come here because there's some fruit coming out of the academy and they see the fruit. People want to be a part of something great."