Aaron Invitational game a 'blessing' for 44 high school stars

July 31st, 2023

ATLANTA -- Before the Braves' 8-6 victory against the Brewers on Sunday at Truist Park, Atlanta center fielder met and spoke with the 2023 Hank Aaron Invitational class.

Harris wished the 44 players good luck and told them to have fun, enjoy the moment and keep working. It was a dreamlike moment for the high school kids to meet last year’s National League Rookie of the Year, who experienced the program in 2018.

“It was really cool seeing him before the game, especially him being a man of color and last year’s Rookie of the Year,” said Bruce Wyche, who plays outfielder at Union Grove (Ga.) High School and committed to North Carolina A&T State University. “At first, it was surreal, but then the way he was interacting with us just goes to show he's just another human being.”

Harris was among the many esteemed guests that attended the Hank Aaron Invitational showcase game. The 44 players stood out among more than 200 participants and were drafted to two teams -- Team Hank Aaron and Team Jackie Robinson -- for the annual event.

Team Aaron won the seven-inning showcase game, 4-3, which concluded “Hank Aaron Week.” The event gave the high schoolers a chance to display their skills after two weeks of competition, coaching and evaluation at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach.

“It's just been a blessing, and it's an honor to have ‘Hank Aaron’ across [my] chest knowing the type of player he was,” Lewisburg (Miss.) High School outfielder Sam Richardson said.

After two scoreless innings, the game became a back-and-forth showdown. Team Aaron scored two runs in the third, thanks to Louisville commit Dennis Butler’s RBI triple and LSU commit David Hogg’s RBI single.

Team Robinson rallied with a two-run fifth inning. Fort Myers (Fla.) High School infielder Madrid Tucker plated Jadyn Fielder, son of six-time All-Star Prince Fielder, on a fielder’s choice and Trinity Christian Academy (Fla.) catcher Erik Soto hit an RBI single in his first plate appearance.

Team Aaron responded with a run by Summer Creek (Texas) High School outfielder Donovan Jordan, who scored on a wild pitch to take the lead in the bottom of the fifth. Team Robinson countered with another run, with North Carolina A&T commit Trey Lawrence hitting an RBI double in the top of the sixth.

The final run came from Team Aaron’s Keenan Jabeth in the sixth. The Florida International University commit hit the go-ahead single to short and beat out the throw to first.

“It was an amazing game,” Jabeth said. “It went down to the wire. … It’s really a blessing to be out here with all this talent.”

The Hank Aaron Invitational has produced more than 55 players that have been selected in the past five MLB Drafts. Some players include: Dillon Head (Padres), George Lombard (Yankees), Termarr Johnson (Pirates), Elijah Green (Nationals), Justin Crawford (Phillies) and Cam Collier (Reds).

There are more than 200 alumni of the program that are playing baseball professionally in Minor League systems or in college.

“That’s the ultimate goal for these guys,” Team Aaron hitting coach and former Braves center fielder Marquis Grissom said. “They’re just like [when we were] kids. We had aspirations and dreams to make it to the Major Leagues and hopefully all of these guys can.”

“Hank Aaron Week” was filled with many initiatives -- “Cultural Day,” luncheons and volunteer projects -- that honored the life and legacy of Aaron, and Sunday’s contest was the perfect way to cap it off.

“Anything related to Hank Aaron is near and dear to us because we love Hank,” Braves senior director of alumni relations Greg McMichael said. “We know what kind of human being he was and what kind of great player he was. So to be able to showcase him and highlight some of the things that he'd done over his career -- in his life -- just kind of allows us to retell that story.”