MLB Together honors A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls club with legacy project

June 20th, 2024

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A.G. Gaston was one of the leading entrepreneurs of the American South during the 20th century. The Birmingham, Ala., native was born in 1892 and overcame humble beginnings on his path toward building a multimillion-dollar empire, with his companies operating as some of the most prominent Black businesses in the region.

Committed to the growth of his community, Gaston also played a key role in the Birmingham campaign led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which brought attention to the push for integration in 1963, when it was considered the most segregated city in the country.

Gaston’s motto was to “find a need and fill it.” It wasn’t just a business model; it’s also how the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club came to be in 1966.

Fifty-eight years later, Major League Baseball saw fit to honor his legacy by finding and filling one of the club’s needs.

On Thursday morning, ahead of MLB at Rickwood Field: A Tribute to the Negro Leagues, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, a host of former players, and even some of the Giants and Cardinals made their way to the club to unveil the MLB Together legacy project: A new Freight Farms hydroponic farm for the kids to grow vegetables that will be used at the club, as well as donated to the local community.

“From the very beginning when we started talking about the event at Rickwood, we wanted to treat it like one of our most important events, like the All-Star Game, like the World Series, like our game in London,” Manfred said. “A key feature of that treatment is always an effort on the part of Major League Baseball to give back to the community, and usually part of that give back involves the Boys & Girls Club.

“This type of undertaking is supportive of our MLB Together program and its key pillars: education, health and community well-being. So, I hope that for years to come, the young people that come to this Boys & Girls Club will benefit from this farm and learn to enjoy healthy eating as part of their everyday lives.”

From the Cardinals, manager Oliver Marmol, pitcher Kyle Gibson, shortstop Masyn Winn, alum Xavier Scruggs and mascot Fredbird were in attendance, as were pitcher Jordan Hicks, alums Randy Winn and Jeffrey Leonard and mascot Lou Seal from the Giants.

Several members of the Commissioner’s Ambassador Program also came to show their support, including Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Dexter Fowler, Adam Jones, Justin Upton, Michael Bourn, Chris Young and LaTroy Hawkins, as did special assistants to the Commissioner Albert Pujols and CC Sabathia.

Sabathia has played a central role throughout this week in Birmingham, including in the “Barnstorm Birmingham” celebrity softball game on Wednesday night.

“I think it’s important for us to show up in the community,” he said. “I grew up in the Boys and Girls Club, and I can relate to these kids closely more than anybody, because I am a club kid. Having Major League Baseball players show up at your club is a huge deal and a big experience, and it’s something that the kids will never forget.”

St. Louis Cardinals mascot Fredbird during the MLB Together Legacy event at A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club.Parker Freedman/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Stacy Blackmon knows that better than most as the vice president of metro services and director of organizational development at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“Not too long ago, I was at another Boys & Girls Club on a tour and a person asked our young tour guide, ‘Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?’ And that young person said, ‘I can be anything,’” Blackmon said. “Folks, that is the spirit of Boys & Girls Clubs. It’s about young people thriving. It’s about communities thriving.”

Cardinals vice president of community relations Michael Hall and Giants president and chief executive officer Larry Baer spoke alongside Manfred and Blackmon during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, with Baer sharing a story to illustrate just that.

Members of the Cardinals and Giants organization were in attendance for the MLB Together Legacy event at A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club.Parker Freedman/MLB Photos via Getty Images

In 2007, the Giants hosted the All-Star Game in San Francisco, and the late Willie Mays’ Say Hey Foundation worked with MLB to create a Boys & Girls Club called the Willie Mays Clubhouse at Hunters Point near Candlestick Park, the team’s old stomping grounds.

“That Willie Mays Boys & Girls Club is going strong,” Baer said. “We had a PLAY BALL event there just last week with four of our players coming and a couple of coaches appearing. The Gaston Boys & Girls Club obviously is going strong. We’re so happy that we can add to that strength going forward.”