Semien excited for Rangers to host HBCU showcase

February 7th, 2024

ARLINGTON -- On Tuesday, the Texas Rangers held a luncheon to promote the HBCU Swingman Classic presented by T-Mobile and powered by the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation (YDF), which will lead off 2024 All-Star Week at Globe Life Field. The inaugural event was held last year, during All-Star Week in Seattle.

At the HBCU Swingman Classic, 50 players from historically Black colleges and universities will showcase their skills nationally, while spotlighting the legacies of HBCU programs. The classic is scheduled for July 12 at Globe Life Field at 7 p.m. CT and will air live on MLB Network.

“The city of Seattle did such an amazing job kicking off the HBCU Swingman Classic and introducing it to Major League Baseball and our fans. We have a heavy task here in Arlington to continue that celebration of HBCUs and the Divine Nine,” said Ray Casas, the Rangers' senior director of community impact.

The luncheon featured MLB representatives and select ambassadors for the HBCUs involved in the event. They later answered round-table questions acknowledging the success of last year’s classic, while also recognizing that this is work in progress.

“What we are trying to do is create that homecoming-type environment. Our ultimate goal is to have a full ballpark. If these kids have an opportunity to play in front of a full ballpark on this stage, that’ll be a good experience that they will never forget,” said Del Matthews, MLB’s vice president baseball development.

Also in attendance was Rangers second baseman , the 2023 MLBPA Heart & Hustle Award winner.

“I think about the young men who will be participating, 50 players, [it’s] an All-Star game for the HBCU players. That’s going to be special on the biggest stage here at Globe Life,” Semien said. “I know I’ll be watching [and] supporting, and we hope the same for everybody here.”

While addressing the crowd, Semien mentioned the decline of Black players in Major League Baseball. According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, 6.2 percent of players identified as Black or African American on Opening Day 2023, 1 percent lower than a year earlier.

“Those opportunities have not always been there,” Semien said. “I look out every single day. I look in the clubhouses I am in, and all you can hope is that young kids are playing baseball and working hard to make their way up. It takes a lot of hard work and opportunity, and people giving you chances, maybe [something] kids with more opportunities take for granted.”

Reggie Waller, an MLB Players Association consultant, noted that the “entire trajectory of my life” changed when he attended a tryout camp with the Reds as a young ballplayer.

“That’s why we fight vigorously to make sure we include every possible player that we can,” Waller said. “As you gain from these exposures and the mentorships that come from the people that you come in contact with, it opens up the world to you.

“My parents exposed me to things, but greater than that, I’ve been all over the world because of baseball. It’s important that you look and see what the possibilities are and how to attach with people who can help you get to where you want to go.”

Much of the conversation following the panel discussion revolved around how events like the HBCU Swingman Classic could continue efforts to grow the game within Black communities. Jean Lee Batrus, executive director of the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation, indicated that the Swingman Classic and other YDF efforts are designed specifically to bring the attention of baseball back to those communities.

“We are building fields within their own neighborhoods,” she said. “What we’re seeing across America is that the number of quality fields and complexes are disappearing. We want to build where a kid can walk to the fields, especially in a situation where a single parent is not able to drive the child. I know we are making a dent. I can name projects in Mississippi, Nashville and all over the country where we are transforming these communities. We are creating these fields as hubs and centers that are bringing families and communities [as a whole] together.”

Batrus also gave insight into how one recognition of the HBCU Swingman Classic specifically speaks to the philanthropic and educational aspect of the event.

“Like last year, we will have an MVP, which focuses on the skill and talent of the individual player. We’ll also have a character award that will recognize one student-athlete for his impact in their community, how they give back, and their academic track record. Just something to highlight outside of just how they’re doing as a baseball player. We really take a look at that holistic aspect of that young person. It’s really important to us.”

Semien noted that his grandparents attended HBCUs -- Southern University (La.) and Jackson State (Miss.) -- which is why HBCUs are dear to him. When Semien played at Berkeley during his sophomore year, he recalls there were about seven Black players, whereas the rest of the teams in the Pac-10 Conference had around two.

Last year’s HBCU Swingman Classic featured three players who were selected later in the 2023 MLB Draft out of the 50 who participated. The hope is that it’s a steppingstone, and as the event grows, so does the impact on the community and for HBCU ballplayers. Semien noted more Black players tend to get drafted out of high school rather than college.

“It’s good for college baseball, providing opportunity for Black players. They’re able to season their game a little bit more from age 18 to 20, 21 at the college level, and a lot of kids are getting drafted out of college,” Semien said. “I’m definitely expecting more [Swingman participants drafted]. I’ll be keeping track of these guys throughout the year, [and] anyway I can help and get them to understand what they need to do to get drafted to get to the next level, I’m here.”

In addition to the HBCU Swingman Classic, the Rangers will host HBCU Diamond Day on June 8 vs. the San Francisco Giants at Globe Life Field.