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Breakthrough Series returns to Compton

Youth baseball program began at Southern California UYA in 2008
MLB.com

COMPTON, Calif. -- A chance to make a difference in the lives of inner-city baseball players has been a chief interest of those who lead Major League Baseball's Breakthrough Series. However, the drive to do so might be firmest in Compton, Calif., at the MLB Urban Youth Academy, where the initiative first kicked off in 2008.

The Breakthrough Series is a joint effort between Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association and USA Baseball. Its goal is to increase diversity in baseball and expose inner-city youth prospects to guidance and mentorship from pros, as well as to showcase their skill sets for scouts.

COMPTON, Calif. -- A chance to make a difference in the lives of inner-city baseball players has been a chief interest of those who lead Major League Baseball's Breakthrough Series. However, the drive to do so might be firmest in Compton, Calif., at the MLB Urban Youth Academy, where the initiative first kicked off in 2008.

The Breakthrough Series is a joint effort between Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association and USA Baseball. Its goal is to increase diversity in baseball and expose inner-city youth prospects to guidance and mentorship from pros, as well as to showcase their skill sets for scouts.

Jerry Manuel, who holds Major League experience as a player, coach and manager, said returning to the Southern California site on Friday filled a void in his heart.

"To come back and to find that the landscape has changed, and to be able to give back is rewarding for me," said Manuel, who works as an MLB Youth Programs consultant. "They [the youth players] don't realize that, but I get life out of being able to pass on knowledge."

Video: Talent on display at 2017 Breakthrough Series event

This week marked the first time the Breakthrough Series hosted an event at the Compton Center since 2009. The three-day event began Wednesday and concluded Friday. Darrell Miller, vice president of MLB's Youth Facility & Development, said he's pleased with the series' expansion across the country, but he is happy to see it return to its roots.

"Having it in Compton is really good because we get a lot of local kids that now get to stay home, and we're seen in a different format in a showcase type of environment," Miller said. "A lot of our academy kids got an opportunity as well."

Sixty high school players, including 31 from Southern California, spent three days testing, playing on the diamond and getting fielding instruction and guidance from former Major Leaguers and managers.

Video: Williams, Steverson talk at Breakthrough Series

The deeper purpose of the initiative is blatantly stated in the title, according to Miller and former All-Star outfielder Eric Davis, a native of Los Angeles.

Davis says the BTS is "breaking through grounds of getting kids more involved in baseball in inner cities around America," providing young players from diverse backgrounds a chance they wouldn't receive anywhere else.

"[The BTS is] giving these kids chances of possibly living their dream," Davis said.

Equipping youth with key information and a chance to present their skills before evaluators is at the extent of the BTS's goals, although simply offering kids a chance to play the game is at the forefront of the effort.

Video: Bo Jackson on importance of Breakthrough Series

Travel ball is often too expensive for economically challenged families to pay potentially hundreds of dollars on a weekly basis. The problem disables players from competing in tournaments where they can gain playing experience and be scouted, something Manuel explained has been particularly burdensome on African-American families.

"This is a way for us to try and push that envelope a bit and try to help them save some funds," Manuel said.

Extending equal opportunity is at the foundation of the BTS. Miller quipped that "everyone deserves a chance to play the greatest game that's ever been created," noting baseball's penchant for ingraining young players with determined mindsets.

"Baseball is the individual determination sport," Miller said. "You can be tall, you can be short, you can be a little heavy, you can be a little skinny -- but if you work hard and you put in the time, you can develop the skills necessary to play in the Major Leagues, and so I think it's really important people play baseball.

"Baseball's taught me that anyone can accomplish their goal if they work hard enough. That's the American way. It's an individual determination game."

Video: Griffey Jr. shares his wisdom at Breakthrough Series

Willingness to go the extra mile is not a foreign concept to the Compton campers. Just ask Sanson "Trey" Faltine, a University of Texas shortstop commit from Richmond, Texas.

Faltine's ultimate goal is not only to reach the Major Leagues, but also to become a Hall of Famer and be "one of the greatest to ever play this game." But, he explained, in a game of failure, one must follow their words with actions to get anywhere.

In fact, a story a BTS coach told Faltine drove home the point.

"Kids in the Dominican Republic, they wake up at 6:30 [in the morning] and are on the beach running, trying to get faster," Faltine said. "That's something I look to. My dad's from Venezuela, so I kind of have that same kind of feeling [for] how they do that stuff."

Full-fledged effort is encouraged by coaches, but Davis said he wants players to also be aware of opportunities available off the field that are still integrated with the sport.

Video: Passion and Determination at Breakthrough Series

"Coaching, management, agents, grounds crew -- If you love something, be committed to know it has more opportunities than just playing on the field," said the three-time Gold Glove Award winner. "If you have a passion for something, the beauty of this is there's so many different outlets that you can stay close to the game. But you have to dream."

Maintaining the dream and making a difference is at the core of the BTS's premise, and the initiative's return to its home this summer reiterated that point.

Said Davis: "If we all make a difference, then we've accomplished what we needed to."

Kaelen Jones is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.