Major League Baseball's annual collegiate tournament designed to highlight baseball programs at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), formerly known as the Urban Invitational, has been renamed the Andre Dawson Classic.
Dawson, who enjoyed a 21-year big league career as an outfielder with the Expos, Cubs, Red Sox and Marlins and is one of two HBCU alumni who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, was drafted out of Florida A&M University in 1975. He won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in '77 and the NL Most Valuable Player Award in '87, was an eight-time All-Star and an eight-time Gold Glove Award winner. He is one of five players to hit at least 400 home runs (438) and steal 300 bases (314), along with Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran.
"It is with the utmost appreciation that I take this opportunity to thank MLB for this honor," said Dawson, who along with Southern University's Lou Brock represent HBCU alumni in the Hall of Fame. "I am a product of an HBCU program that provided me an opportunity to pursue a college education while chasing a childhood dream. I am both honored and humbled to play a role in empowering students to be leaders in their communities and strive to improve and impact the lives of others."
This year's tournament will take place from Feb. 16-18, and will feature six HBCU teams -- Alabama State University (second appearance), Alcorn State University (fourth appearance), Grambling State University (seventh appearance), Prairie View A&M University (fourth appearance), Southern University (11th appearance) and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (first appearance) -- as well as the University of New Orleans (fifth appearance) and University of Illinois at Chicago (second appearance).
The majority of the games will take place at the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy, with some contests also taking place at Maestri Field, home of the University of New Orleans baseball team. Two of the games played on Saturday, Feb. 17, will be aired live on MLB Network and MLB.com.
Along with Dawson, Blue Jays outfielder Curtis Granderson, former MLB All-Star Dmitri Young and former American League Manager of the Year Jerry Manuel (currently an MLB youth programs consultant) will make special appearances during the tournament.
The group of six HBCU teams in this year's field represents the highest number of teams in the 11-year history of the tournament. More than 25 HBCU players who have participated in the tournament have been selected in the MLB Draft. In addition, 22 players on this year's tournament rosters are alumni of MLB Youth Academies, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) or MLB Amateur development camps.