MVP Tourney gives youth great opportunity

Longtime high school coach Goodwin mentors African-American prep players

July 14th, 2017
Former Rockies first-round pick Chris Nelson played in the first MVP Tournament. (AP)

Greg Goodwin had a point to prove. He was tired of watching the number of African-Americans in the big leagues dwindle annually. He was fed up with hearing people talk about the declining interest African-Americans had in the national pastime.
Instead of moaning and groaning, though, Goodwin -- the longtime baseball coach at Redan High School in DeKalb County, Ga. -- decided to do something about it.
"We started hearing about how black kids were not playing baseball, and we knew that wasn't true," said Goodman. "A few of us decided, 'Let's put a tournament together.' We thought we would do it for a couple of years and be through with it."
So much for that idea.
While the focus of the baseball world is on Miami this week, with the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard on tap Tuesday night at Marlins Park, college coaches and professional scouts in the Southeast will be in Atlanta this weekend, checking out the players in the 15th annual Mentoring Viable Prospects (MVP) Tournament.
"It kept growing and growing," said Goodwin. "We had so much support. It is truly a grassroots effort."
And that grassroots effort has grown to include a group of African-American big league scouts -- Danny Montgomery of the Rockies, Steve Williams of the Pirates, Chip Lawrence of the Padres and Clarence Jones of the Rangers.
Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities
"The credit goes to that group in Atlanta," said Montgomery. "They wanted to help the kids, and we decided offered our assistance. We have a symposium on Saturday night for the kids and their parents. They come from backgrounds where many of them really don't now much about how the scholarship programs work, and we have speakers who explain that."
Roger Candor, who retired this year after 33 years as the head coach at Southern University, is this year's featured speaker.
This year, with Commissioner Rob Manfred's focus on improving the African-American impact on the game, former Angels general manager Tony Reagins, MLB's vice president of youth programs, has stepped in to help MVP.
"Mentoring Viable Prospects tournament and symposium aligns nicely with Major League Baseball's efforts to support quality programs that afford young people from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to participate in our game," said Reagins. "Over the last decade, MVP has done an exceptional job in not only creating playing opportunities but emphasizing the importance of education and like skills."
This is the eighth year the games will be played on the campus of Georgia State.
Play Ball
There have been suggestions of staging the tournament in different places each year, possibly having multiple tournaments and creating a revenue stream. But that takes away from the entire purpose behind the idea of MVP, and it's not going to happen.
This is a no-frills event. Everything is put into helping gain exposure for young athletes. There's no pomp and circumstance. And it has proven to be a very successful approach.
"We've had more than 300 kids get scholarships," Goodwin said. "These are kids that probably wouldn't have had that chance otherwise. We reach out to get who doesn't have resources to play travel ball. They are good ballplayers. They just need a chance."
And Goodman does know something about talent. He is retired now, after a career at Redan High School, where he started out as a teacher, ended up as the principal and in between was the baseball coach. He was around for the transition of the school from predominantly percent white students to its current majority black student body.
Goodman took pleasure when, as the principal in 2013, he saw Redan become the first predominantly African-American school from Atlanta to win the Georgia state title since integration. That same year, Redan became one of the few schools to have three of its players signed out of high school and play in the big leagues in the same season -- Chris Nelson with the Rockies, (who was an All-Star with the Phillies) and with the Reds. Nelson came out of Redan in 2004, he was drafted by the Rockies with the ninth selection in the first round.
"Chris was in our first tournament [in 2003]," said Goodwin.
All that pride, however, did not offset frustration from seeing Major League Baseball's ratio of African-American players declining. This year, the percentage dropped to 7.7 percent.
"You'd hear people say, 'Minorities don't play baseball,' and we knew it wasn't true," Goodman said. "The Little League parks were filled with black kids playing baseball. But when they got to middle school, they would gravitate to football and basketball. We knew African-Americans were playing baseball in Atlanta, and we have found out there are efforts in other cities, too."
The MVP program is changing that mindset. It has grown from an Atlanta-centric program to one that this year will have eight teams representing seven parts of the country. Seven years ago, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf stepped up and began supporting a team from the Windy City to play in the tournament. Manny Upton, father of big league players Justin and Melvin, has become a regular with a team from Virginia, and Lawrence has organized a team of players from Florida.
This year, teams from Oakland and Detroit will be in attendance as well.
The payment for Goodwin and Co. is not financial.
"For us, the rewards are letters we get from kids thanking us for the opportunity to go to college," Goodwin said. "They get a chance through baseball to improve their life."
And Goodwin and Co. get the satisfaction of knowing they have opened the door for the athletes to be given that opportunity.