Youth event preserves Negro Leagues legacy

Hank Aaron Invitational participants share what the Negro Leagues mean to them

July 28th, 2021

Week two of the Hank Aaron Invitational is underway at the Jackie Robinson Training Center in Vero Beach, Fla. Around 250 high school-aged baseball players have been invited to learn from the best.  

Not only will they receive elite-level training, but they will play alongside some of the top recruits in the country.  

“Not a lot of people get this opportunity to play here,” said Durrell Fortson Jr., a high school pitcher from the Philadelphia area. “Just playing here, with people that I know that are better than me, makes me want to grind even harder.”

Over the weeklong camp, players will learn from former Major League players and coaches, developing their skills on and off of the field. The event -- which is partnered with USA Baseball, MLB, the Players Association and the Atlanta Braves -- aims to take athletes with diverse backgrounds to the next level of the game.  

“At the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, we celebrate the people who built the bridge,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the museum. “That's the bridge that you all have the opportunity to walk across to pursue your dreams of playing this game at the next level, whether that is collegiately or in the big Show.” 

Players receive presentations on college eligibility and information that can help advance their careers at each level of the sport.

The top 44 players from week two of the camp will be invited to play in a showcase game on July 31 at Truist Park, the Braves' home stadium. As part of Hank Aaron Week at the ballpark, the Braves will host a variety of diversity and culture-focused initiatives connected to the Hall of Famer's legacy. 

“When it comes to the Negro Leagues, we were separated from other people playing baseball,” said Emmanuel Dooley, a South Florida baseball commit . “But we had guys ... that really just paved the way for us to get us to be able to come in this sport. Now, we have the best pitcher, most stolen bases, so, we're just taking over the game.” 

The Invitational has produced many drafted players, including three from the 2021 draft class who participated in the ‘19 event -- Ryan Spikes (Rays), Ian Moller (Rangers) and Irv Carter (Blue Jays).

The legacy and influence of Robinson and Aaron is not lost on these players, each knowing that without them, events like this wouldn’t be possible. 

“Jackie Robinson is the one who started all this out, and getting to be here and play on the fields that he's played on before is just amazing,” said Derrick Mitchell, an Arizona State University commit. “Not everyone gets to have the opportunity. All of us just, we're all lucky to be here and being able to play under these great coaches. There are younger kids, they're looking up to us about play and seeing how we play.”