HBCU trio grateful to showcase talents at Combine, Swingman Classic

June 22nd, 2023

PHOENIX -- Hylan Hall was on the path to being drafted out of high school, but an injury during his senior year delayed that dream.

Little did the outfielder know there would be plenty of opportunities ahead of him, including receiving advice from a Hall of Famer.

A friend of Hall’s in Florida set up a lunch between the college junior and Ken Griffey Jr., one of Hall's favorite players. The youngster was able to pick the mind of the Mariners legend, learning secrets on how to improve his game and ultimately make it to the Majors.

Hall and Griffey will reunite during All-Star weekend in Seattle at the inaugural HBCU Swingman Classic, a game that is designed to showcase baseball talent at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Griffey pushed to create the Swingman Classic as an experience for baseball student-athletes from Division I Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Two teams, managed by Jerry Manuel and Bo Porter, will play at T-Mobile Park on July 7. Griffey, Rickie Weeks Jr., Andre Dawson, Marquis Grissom and Vince Coleman will serve as coaches.

“It’s also good to see him give back by creating the Swingman Classic,” Hall said of Griffey. “He doesn’t have to do that.”

Hall, along with Trey Paige and Xavier Meachem are three of the 50 players selected to play in the Swingman Classic. They are also the only three HBCU student-athletes participating in this week's MLB Draft Combine. The trio has been showcasing their talent in front of scouts and front-office staff at Chase Field. All three of them feel that the Combine is beneficial for athletes who come from smaller schools and don’t always get a chance to garner attention. The exposure at an HBCU is less than that of many Power 5 schools.

Paige grew up a Phillies fan and went to plenty of their games. He never imagined he’d one day travel out of state, take the field at an MLB ballpark and show his talents in front of all 30 teams. His hard work paid off.

"I didn't expect to be invited [to the Combine] at all. I was super excited,” said Paige, an infielder from Delaware State who is transferring to Kentucky for his senior year. “I called my parents and my sister right away, they were freaking out. I think my mom started crying on the phone. It just shows that I put in a lot of hard work and it's getting noticed.

“This shows that you can go to an HBCU and still get the same recognition as some of these bigger-name schools.”

Hall spent the 2021 season at Washington State, which had 22,612 students, before transferring in 2022 to Bethune-Cookman, which had just 2,444 students. He has enjoyed the brotherhood of an HBCU, saying that his teammates push him to become a better version of himself.

“I think everything happens for a reason,” Hall said. “I thank God for putting me in that position. He wouldn't give you something that you're not ready for. It's just something that had to happen to me. That's my story.”

Meachem has been around the HBCU environment since he was a child. His parents attended North Carolina Central and went to the homecoming events. He’s a right-handed pitcher, but idolized Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen. In fact, McCutchen is the reason Meachem decided to grow his hair out. He has learned the impact representation in baseball can have on young fans. He saw how the game impacted his teammates at North Carolina A&T.

“A lot of guys are hungry and have gone through adversity throughout their whole baseball career,” Meachem said. “So a lot of guys play with a chip on [their] shoulder [is what's] special about our program.

“It's really important because in the future [there will be] a lot more minorities in the game,” Meachem said. “MLB providing these resources is going to increase [the participation for] those players. You’ll see a lot more minority talent in the league sooner or later.”