'A great experience': MLB4 tourney continues players' development

Diversity programs alumni utilizing knowledge, skills gained from past events

February 20th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Growing up in Las Vegas, Irvin Weems didn’t know many fellow African American baseball players. That can sometimes be the case for Black youth athletes in various cities and towns across the United States. But Major League Baseball has recently done its part in bringing these players together.

With events such as the Breakthrough Series, the Hank Aaron Invitational, the DREAM Series and other diversity-focused programs, high school players around the country with different backgrounds get an opportunity to work with former and current MLB coaches, managers and players. It also sets the participants up for success at the next level.

Now a freshman outfielder at San Diego State, Weems began his college career this weekend at the MLB4 Tournament, held at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale. Before joining the Aztecs, though, he participated in both the Breakthrough Series and Hank Aaron Invitational while he was still attending Durango High School in Las Vegas.

Coming up from Vegas, you don’t see a lot of African Americans playing baseball, and it was good to be around those guys knowing that I’m not the only one,” Weems said. “There are a lot more out there competing and being into baseball.

“Knowing that they’re trying to get more African Americans to join together and play the game of baseball, since it’s one of the best sports that we ever can play, it’s a great experience, because you learn a lot from the coaches and being around former MLB players that grew up just like how I did being African American.”

Weems isn’t the only player on San Diego State’s roster who participated in these types of events during his high school days. Redshirt junior right-hander Julian Jackson previously attended the Breakthrough Series, while redshirt sophomore outfielder Xavier Carter and freshman right-hander Eldridge Armstrong III went to that event, as well as the Hank Aaron Invitational and the DREAM Series.

Another player participating in this weekend’s MLB4 Tournament is also an alum of these programs, as Cal redshirt sophomore right-hander Aaron Roberts attended the Breakthrough Series and DREAM Series.

The diverse groups of players at those events gain knowledge and advice from the former big leaguers in attendance. For Carter, the Breakthrough Series provided him an opportunity to work with former White Sox and Mets manager Jerry Manuel.

Carter, who attended Capital Christian High School in Sacramento, Calif., considers Manuel, who now resides in the Sacramento area, one of his baseball mentors. Carter believes Manuel and the experiences at the diversity-focused programs helped make him “a man and a better baseball player.”

“I think it’s just very helping for individuals such as myself and other African Americans, and they’re just trying to get more of us out there playing,” Carter said. “They know what they’re talking about, they are former pro leaguers and coaches, so they were giving us great information and it prepared us to be a young adult and a man, as well as being great at baseball.”

Many players at those events go on to play at top colleges. Some even eventually make it to MLB.

For the four currently at San Diego State, they’re still early in their baseball careers. Weems has played only two games, but he’s already getting time on the diamond, having started in right field for the Aztecs on both Friday and Saturday.

As San Diego State's season goes on, head coach Mark Martinez, who said he’s a member of multiple diversity committees, isn’t only looking for wins from his team. He wants his players to continue the push for diversity.

“I really think the No. 1 thing for all our athletes, even the guys that had those experiences, is education and learning from it and providing our guys the tools in their toolbox to empower them to send a more positive message,” Martinez said. “I think that’s probably one of the things that we are really cognizant of in our program, is that we’re trying to make sure that this generation of young people can do some great things in the future.”