Aaron Invy aims to take players to next level

July 27th, 2021

The 2021 Hank Aaron Invitational has taken on a special meaning, as its Hall of Famer namesake passed away in January. If Aaron were still around, the legend would surely be blown away by the breadth of talent playing in the development event that bears his name.

From newcomers to returnees, first-generation players to the relatives of big leaguers such as Lou Collier, Junior Spivey and Jon Duplantier, the stars of tomorrow who have converged at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Fla., share one common trait: unbridled passion.

“I can't even put into words really how thankful I am for my cousin being in the big leagues and just offering a lot of experience and all types of knowledge for me,” said Jayden Duplantier, cousin of the D-backs right-hander.

A veteran of parts of eight big league seasons, Collier has relished the chance to watch his son, Cam, and others develop at the Invitational, an elite event presented by the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation. Taking place over two weeks, the camp aims to identify and elevate high school-age talents from diverse backgrounds.

“Kids are coming from different situations. So for me, I want to make them smile first, because you never know what they may be going through,” said the elder Collier.

He also knows how the right development can impact an aspiring player.

“As a dad, just watching my son grow up in this program to be around ex-Major Leaguers, from all different levels, different aspects of the game has helped his game grow, said Collier. "It’s helped him grow as a young man. It's been special watching that.”

Cam Collier -- a return participant who has also attended the Dream Series and the Breakthrough Series -- shares his dad’s sentiments and appreciation for the lessons learned on and off the field of the Invitational.

“My dad pushes me the most; he's been to the highest level, he's been to where I want to be,” Collier said. “Everything I do is for him, and I am this good because of him.”

Other legacy participants at the Invitational include Royce Clayton Jr., Mekih Hawkins (LaTroy Hawkins’ nephew) and Ernest Spivey III (Junior’s son). But while the benefit of being kin to a former Major Leaguer is indisputable, most Invitational players -- aged 13-18 -- do not come from a big league lineage. The Invitational helps even that playing field, however, with everyone receiving prestigious on-field training sessions with former Major and Minor League players, coaches, managers and executives, as well as special guest presentations on advancing to the collegiate and professional levels of baseball.

“The kids are getting taught every aspect of the game from someone that was the best in the game when they played,” said Jerry Royster, an ex-Major League player, coach and manager. “They won't know what that really means until they get ready to leave here. But it's fun to watch them each and every day as they sit and listen to a Ken Griffey Jr. or a Dave Winfield or Ken Griffey Sr. or a Marquis Grissom or an Eric Davis. I can go on and on and on about the instruction that they're getting and how they're able to put it to work.”

If you go by recent history, the training has paid off, with former Invitational participants such as catcher Ian Moller (Rangers), right-hander Irv Carter (Blue Jays) and infielder Ryan Spikes (Rays) getting drafted this year, joining a growing list of alumni.