MLB Outreach Programs for Underserved Youth
Behind its vast repertoire of initiatives, Major League Baseball has continued to develop grassroots talent – the future stars of the game on the field and their fans.
With showcases, tournaments and initiatives, MLB has – alongside various notable partners including USA Baseball and USA Softball – comprehensively covered the country to instill the virtues of baseball and softball in young people around the world.
From bucolic towns to bustling cities, baseball and softball are brought to underserved youth thanks to many members of the game’s community.
According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), baseball casual attendance increased 22% in 2020. This was at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down the vast majority of baseball leagues and youth softball. the year.
MLB’s baseball and softball development initiatives are designed to improve access and foster the growth of diversity within the youth and amateur levels of the sport. Many of these programs use the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida (the former “Historic Dodgertown”) as a hub for premier youth baseball and softball programs.
Since the launch of MLB’s PLAY BALL initiative in 2014, casual participation in baseball has increased nearly 90%, and in four of the past five years, baseball and softball have combined to be the sport the most common in the United States.
Let’s take a look at some of the programs that are helping to pave the way for the future of sport.
Diversity Development Camps
One aspect of this specifically targeted effort to diversify the baseball and softball pipeline by developing and advancing high school-aged athletes from diverse backgrounds is the variety of development programs, including the Breakthrough Series, the DREAM series and Hank Aaron Invitational. These programs, which primarily feature black high school student-athletes and are largely coached by black former Major League players, have seen tremendous success over the past six years. In fact, 95% of all baseball developmental event attendees who have graduated from high school have played college or professional baseball. The events are completely free for participants.
Players in the MLB and USA Baseball diversity pipeline, including the Breakthrough Series, DREAM Series, and Elite Development Invitational, may be offered additional development and instructional opportunities throughout the year. Providing participants with touchpoints at different times throughout the season allows for consistent growth opportunities in both competitive and non-competitive settings, and aids in the continued advancement of their life and baseball skills.
The Breakthrough series, created in 2008, is a joint effort on behalf of USA Baseball and Major League Baseball. This unique program focuses on developing school-aged players on and off the field through the highest levels of coaching, mentorship and insight from leaders in the baseball industry. In recent years, this initiative has expanded to serve the women’s softball and baseball community, with coaches comprised of softball legends (including Jennie Finch, Natasha Watley and Lauren Chamberlain) and Women’s National Team members from both sports.
The DREAM Series is a showcase event focused on the dynamics of throwing and catching for a diverse group of elite high school athletes – primarily black athletes – from across the country during the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Jr.. The event, established in 2017, is operated by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball.
Hank Aaron Invitational
The 2021 Hank Aaron Invitational — a joint effort between USA Baseball, MLB, the MLBPA through the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation — took on special significance as its Hall of Fame namesake passed away in January. If Aaron were still around, the legend would have been blown away by the breadth of talent that continues to play in the developmental event that bears his name. From newcomers to returnees, first-generation players to parents of big leaguers such as Lou Collier, Junior Spivey and Jon Duplantier, the stars of tomorrow who converged at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, shared a common trait: unbridled passion.
The Aaron Invitational helps level the playing field for many underserved youngsters, each receiving prestigious on-field training sessions with former major and minor league players, coaches, managers and executives, as well as special guest presentations on career and college advancement. baseball. The event also features a showcase game opportunity where the top 44 players from the Vero Beach game are selected to play at Truist Park.
ID events are pro-style workouts designed to find players from diverse backgrounds – especially those who live in inner cities and underserved areas, as well as female baseball players – to invite to directed programs by MLB, including RBI programs, youth academies and baseball development events. The COVID-19 pandemic has derailed some of baseball’s developmental activities planned for the past two years, but a full slate of ID Tour events are set to take place in 2022.
Part of this global effort is MLB GRIT: Girls ID Tour, a talent showcase specifically for female baseball players with top female players invited to elite female baseball development programs hosted by MLB and USA Baseball, including the Girls Baseball Breakthrough.
MLB’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program boasts an impressive roster of alumni among its approximately two million players since its inception in 1989.
RBI is administered by Major League Baseball and designed to provide low-cost opportunities to play baseball and softball for youth in underserved and diverse communities while encouraging academic achievement and teaching the value of teamwork, among other important life lessons.
Each RBI season culminates with the RBI World Series; the Atlanta Braves program (junior division) and the Cincinnati Reds program (senior division) won crowns last year. On the softball side, the Houston Astros program was last for the third straight year in 2021.
MLB Youth Academies Network
MLB Youth Academies are “physical” facilities for the development of low-cost/free baseball and softball. Academies are located nationwide, including LA/Compton, NY/Bronx, Houston, Dallas, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Puerto Rico/Gurabo. The facilities also offer professional programs focused on areas such as broadcasting, sports law, arbitration and more.
Andre Dawson Classic
To celebrate Black History Month, the Andre Dawson Classic, a tournament started in 2008 by MLB to showcase historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and their baseball programs, will return to New Orleans. for the eighth time in 2022. Games featuring seven HBCU baseball programs and the University of New Orleans will be hosted at both the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy and Maestri Field at the University of New Orleans. Orleans. Two games in particular will be highlighted via a live game broadcast on MLB Network and a stream on MLB.com on February 19. As clear evidence of pipeline progress, 53 players across the eight teams are alumni of several of the diversity-focused programs run by MLB — a 112% increase from the last tournament in February 2020.
A variety of grassroots initiatives have been put in place to introduce and develop the game at younger levels.
In 2021, MLB continued its outreach and efforts to build tangible connections with the Black community, specifically partnering with Black churches across the country through Drive Thru PLAY BALL events where children received equipment to play the game at home, in their neighborhood, and in any other non-traditional baseball setting.
Fun At Bat is a joint initiative between MLB and USA Baseball that provides a free “Bat & Ball” program in the public school physical education curriculum. Millions of children have access to the program in the United States, Mexico, United Kingdom, Puerto Rico and Brazil.
Additional programs that are among the many initiatives impacting the youth baseball and softball community include: Trailblazer Series, Elite Development Invitational, Jennie Finch Classic, Commissioner’s Cup, States Play, Pitch, Hit & Run and Jr. Home Run Derby