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Hank Aaron Invitational launches in Florida

Elite Development tourney rebranded in honor of all-time great
@alysonfooter
July 22, 2019

Beginning this year, Major League Baseball has ensured that the names of two of the game's most historic and impactful players are prominently displayed at several of their most prestigious youth events. The venue for many of these events is called the Jackie Robinson Training Complex, which before this year

Beginning this year, Major League Baseball has ensured that the names of two of the game's most historic and impactful players are prominently displayed at several of their most prestigious youth events.

The venue for many of these events is called the Jackie Robinson Training Complex, which before this year was known as Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla. And one of the tournaments that will be held at the complex every year also has a new name -- the Hank Aaron Invitational, rebranded from the original name, the Elite Development Invitational.

Sunday marked the first day of the newly named invitational.

"We got involved with the Braves and Hank Aaron, and he wanted to be a part of what we are doing with the Elite Development Invitational," said Del Mathews, MLB's vice president of baseball development. "We came up with a creative name to rebrand the event, and appropriately, it's after Hank Aaron. It's a celebration of his legacy and the impact that he wants to have on youth."

Aaron's place in Major League history was cemented decades ago, when he surpassed Babe Ruth to take over top billing as the all-time home run leader. Following his playing career, Aaron has remained active in baseball as an ambassador and a role model, and a living example of what players of color in past generations had to go through to simply play the game.

Even if the participants in the Hank Aaron Invitational are too young to remember the playing career of the namesake of the tournament they're playing in, the learning aspect is always there. Renaming the tournament after one of the most important players in history is one way to make sure Aaron's legacy remains a part of today's lessons.

"His longevity, his contribution to the game over the course of his life," Mathews said. "The many players he impacted that came behind him. The dignity and the class he carried himself with, on and off the field, is something we want the kids to learn about. Knowing that if you work hard, your dreams are within reach. All of those factors make it pretty sweet and inspiring for these young kids."

Operated by USA Baseball, in partnership with Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, the Hank Aaron Invitational is segmented into two sessions over a two-week period. The first opened on Sunday and runs through Thursday and features 130 amateur players of diverse backgrounds, in an environment similar to a Major League Spring Training program, geared toward providing elite training and instruction opportunities from former Major League players and coaches.

One of those coaches is former big league manager Jerry Manuel, who now works for MLB as a baseball and softball development consultant. He embraces the opportunity to teach key fundamentals that kids can take with them to the next level -- college, and for a few, the pros.

"What we're trying to do is let them understand the universal language of baseball," Manuel said. "The very fundamentals of baseball.

"Even though you're still in that mode of showcasing, there's a game that has to be played, and we're trying to introduce them to the knowledge that they can take their game to another level, not just individually, but as a teammate."

The players for each week were selected by a combination of the MLB Youth Academy network, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, MLB, MLBPA, USA Baseball, the Buck O’Neil Scouts Association, MLB Scouts, and individual active and former players.

The Hank Aaron Invitational was created and developed by the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation, a joint initiative by MLB and MLBPA to support efforts that focus on improving the caliber, effectiveness and availability of amateur baseball and softball programs across the United States and internationally.

Developing baseball skills is only one element, however. Helping kids obtain a college degree is just as high of a priority.

"The focus on education is a huge component of what we do," Mathews said. "It's something we take great pride in. We hope to have more kids have the opportunity to play college ball in the future."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.