Hank Aaron Invitational special for young catcher

Chicago native Seymore, 14, feels connection with great-grandfather's Negro Leagues experience

July 22nd, 2019

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- A few of the 130 young baseball players from diverse backgrounds who arrived at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex for the first week of the Hank Aaron Invitational (formerly the Elite Development Invitational) may have little knowledge of the famous man whose name is on the signs and wore the now-retired No. 42.

However, Ashton Seymore isn’t one of them.

Seymore, 14, is a Chicago native who has heard the stories of Robinson, primarily because his great-grandfather played in the Negro Leagues in Florida in the 1950s, and he often puts that into perspective with Robinson’s plight to break the color barrier.

“It’s really cool to know that he was here and walking around here in this really nice training facility,” Seymore said Monday during a break on Field 6.

Monday marked the continuation of Week 1 of the HAI, which is operated by USA Baseball in partnership with Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA).

The first week features amateur players from the Classes of 2023 and '24, and it runs through Thursday.

Robinson and his legacy are inescapable at the JRTC, regardless of what camp or showcase is happening at the legendary facility.

Seymore, who will start the eighth grade next month at the Latin School of Chicago, gets up early, prepares for the day and crosses Jackie Robinson Avenue as soon as he steps out of his dorm.

On his way to the dining facility for breakfast, he passes the Jackie Robinson Conference Room, complete with photos, baseball cards and other Robinson-related memorabilia.

All of the history makes Seymore look to the past and think of his great-grandfather and what he might have talked to him about.

“I would ask him how it was when he played,” said Seymore, “and if he ever wanted to go up to MLB, or did he want to stay down? I know some of them liked playing there in the Negro Leagues.”

Seymore played tennis when he was much younger, but the 5-foot-4 catcher soon developed an infatuation with baseball, and he left the hard court for the clay diamond.

“I liked hitting rocks with sticks, then I found out there was baseball,” said Seymore, who said the Nationals' Brazilian-born is his favorite backstop.

Seymore considers himself a leader during games, studying hitters, positioning players and serving as a liaison as his coach passes along signs, and he said his mother helps him with the mental side of the game.

Seymore also added that the opportunity to catch and get instruction from baseball veterans will leave a lasting impression.

“It’s really great, because you get to meet a lot of new players, coaches and former MLB players giving you instruction. I won’t ever forget this experience,” Seymore said.

Former professional catcher Keronn Walker, who founded the B.I.G. Baseball Academy in Chicago after his playing career ended in 2004, was told about Seymore when the youngster was seven.

“He attended our summer camp in Chicago,” said Walker, who is a scout for his hometown Cubs. “High-energy player, great kid, nice, respectful, and teammates liked him. Incredible work ethic, but he was playing somewhere that wasn’t challenging him that much.

“I recommended him to play with a good friend of mine [fellow HAI camp instructor Lou Collier] and his travel program, and he did just great. He caught the fever, as they say, and continued to work. He really likes catching and has an aptitude for the game and good instincts.

“He’s a talented player who can catch and throw, is durable and is getting better every day.”

As players moved from field to field, former catcher Lenny Webster sat not far from a sign designating “Campy’s Bullpen,” where Dodgers Hall of Fame catcher often sat during Spring Training from 1948 to '57, talking with players and workers just outside the kitchen.

Campanella would chat about just about anything -- baseball, fishing and camp activities.

Webster said he has been impressed so far with Seymore, who is often one of the only African-American catchers in showcases, but it’s the young player’s listening, not talking, that has stood out.

“It was my first time meeting him yesterday,” Webster said. “I liked what I saw. He’s held on to the knowledge they’re teaching him.”