MLB continues HBCU initiative at Play Ball event in Alabama

Kids participate in drills, games at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa

March 19th, 2022
Frederick Hardy/MLB Photos

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Major League Baseball’s ongoing outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) extended to Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday, when they hosted a Play Ball event at Stillman College.

The event was a continuation of MLB’s efforts related to both supporting HBCU baseball and softball programs and engagement with the Black community through Play Ball.

“We’re so thankful that Major League Baseball has partnered with Stillman College and the Stillman baseball program to be a part of this activity,” said Mason Bonner, Stillman’s director of community relations. “It gives these kids a chance to learn the skills and participate in an active program. We’re so thankful they’re here; we welcome the families who came to support this program with Major League Baseball and Stillman College.”

Once the event was underway, kids ages 5-12 took part in agility drills, pickup games, and home-run derbies -- learning the game from Stillman’s coaches and players. In between pitching for the home-run derby and fielding ground balls in pickup games, Terrance Whittle, Stillman’s athletic director and baseball coach, was also quick to thank MLB for giving kids a chance to play baseball when they may not have had one.

“We’re very excited about today. This has been a long time coming,” said Whittle. “We’ve anticipated this day for quite some time. It means a lot to us. This helps to spread our program, and to help bring exposure to baseball in this area.

Frederick Hardy/MLB Photos

“We want to thank all of the kids so much for being here. We want to thank them for taking the time to think about us and share their talent with us. We want to thank our partners at MLB and USA Baseball. They’ve been so gracious to consider us as one of their host sites for these events all across the country.”

MLB’s partnership with HBCUs across the country has grown stronger over time, due in large part to special events that have gained momentum over the past few years.

In February, MLB hosted its annual Andre Dawson Classic at the MLB Youth Academy in New Orleans, which itself is the home field for HBCU baseball and softball at Xavier University of Louisiana. Over the last year-plus, MLB has held Play Ball events throughout the country with Black churches in various communities.

David James, MLB’s vice president of baseball and softball development, spoke highly of the partnership between the league and Stillman.

“It’s important for us to support baseball and softball played at universities -- and specifically we have a commitment to support HBCUs and their athletic programs,” said James. “For a number of years, we’ve done the Andre Dawson Classic -- and this is another way to support young men and young women who want to pursue collegiate careers.”

“For those kids who may not have thought about playing baseball but wanted to, now they get an opportunity to get engaged with the game,” said Whittle. “It gives them confidence. If they can do these skills, they don’t have to be the greatest players in the world. They can just come out here and have some fun.”

The importance of kids learning the game was not lost on James, either, as he spoke about MLB’s commitment to continue growing baseball and softball among young kids.

“It’s important for us to provide communities and kids [with] access,” said James, "whether that be formal or casual at Play Ball events like today. We do a lot of work for these kids. We give them an opportunity to be seen. One day, they could pursue a college scholarship -- or some of them [may] want to pursue it professionally. Really, for us, it’s about how many ways we can provide access with little to no cost to their families.”

The event ended just before Stillman began its doubleheader against Brewton-Parker College. Before heading off to coach, Whittle provided some final words of encouragement to the kids.

“These kids are learning this game the right way, even if it’s just for a few minutes,” Whittle said. “We just hope they all had a great time and want to come back and participate in future events here at Stillman College.”