SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin and Michigan’s Erik Bakich ended the 2019 season in opposing dugouts in Omaha, Neb. They were again across the diamond from each other Friday night at the MLB4 Tournament at Salt River Fields.
However, that wasn’t the first time the two coaches had an encounter since last year’s College World Series.
Corbin and Bakich both attended the Hank Aaron Invitational in Vero Beach, Fla., last July. The event is one of several MLB initiatives designed for diverse groups of student-athletes to learn more about baseball, life in the sport and college opportunities -- and both coaches enjoyed their visits.
“We’re very fortunate that that’s a passion of ours as well,” Bakich said. “We want to target kids from all different backgrounds and have a diverse roster. Some of our best players in the past have been minority players, and so we want to target some of these kids that help our program reach new levels and help these kids individually get a terrific education and create opportunities for themselves to play professionally.”
Several players went from participating in an MLB youth event to attending one of these top college programs. Michigan catcher Jordon Rogers took part in the Breakthrough Series, and Vanderbilt utility man Justyn-Henry Malloy was a Hank Aaron Invitational participant.
Commodores right-hander Kumar Rocker was the Most Outstanding Player at last year’s College World Series, helping Vandy beat Michigan in the finals to win its second national title. But more than a year before that, Rocker took part in the MLB Dream Series in Tempe, Ariz., in 2018, something he said benefited him prior to heading to college.
“It was good to connect with African Americans, of course, and for all of us to be in one area and to play the game we love, that was huge,” Rocker said. “It influenced a lot of people and inspired a lot of people.”
Not only do these events give youth players the opportunity to play baseball, but they get to learn from former and current big leaguers who are often in attendance to instruct the youngsters through drills and teach them what they’ve learned throughout their careers.
That’s what impressed Corbin the most during his time at the Hank Aaron Invitational.
“A lot of wisdom, a lot of experience, they do a good job for the couple weeks that they have the kids there,” Corbin said. “I really enjoyed it, I thought it was one of the better things that I’ve been to, just kind of a neat thing to help those kids learn about the game and about other things that are important in baseball life.”
With Corbin and Bakich attending these events that promote diversity in baseball, more youth players who participate may head to their top-tier college programs. That’s a path that begins at an event like the Hank Aaron Invitational, where they have a chance to make an impression on these coaches.
Bakich believes it’s important for these initiatives to continue to grow and expand in the years to come.
“We need to make sure we’re providing opportunities at the younger levels to all different backgrounds, all different kids of all different socioeconomic statuses, all different races,” Bakich said, “because it’s better for the game.”