The “Creole City” is known for its spicy cuisine, exceptional musicians and overall contributions to black culture. Resiliency, a fighter’s spirit and a “down for my town and my crown” passion for the state of Louisiana is also a trait of its people.
New Orleans also continues to deeply impress America’s sports landscape by hosting The Major League Baseball Urban Invitational for the second consecutive year. In 2014, Louisiana State University hosted the Urban Invitational games in Baton Rouge, with other games being held at the University of New Orleans and the New Orleans MLB Urban Youth Academy.
As black baseball dodges assaults on its relevancy to African-Americans and the numbers of young blacks participating on the youth, high school and college levels decreases – and the complexions of the baseball players (even on HBCU campuses) get whiter everyday in order to sustain a somewhat competitive program—Major League Baseball has called on the city of New Orleans to be the geographic ambassador and the center of one of baseball’s annual displays of diversity.
The games are played from Feb. 20 - Feb. 22, exclusively in the city for the first time in the event’s history.
The Urban Invitational also kicks off the schedule for the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) baseball season and features Division-I HBCUs Grambling State University (Grambling, Louisiana), Southern University (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) and Alcorn State University (Alcorn, Mississippi), as well as the University of New Orleans from the Sunbelt Conference.
Six games will be played between the four schools, with the University of New Orleans hosting games on all three days. Special guest appearances throughout the weekend will include Hall of Famer Frank Robinson (MLB Senior Advisor and Honorary American League President) and Sharon Robinson (MLB Educational Programming Consultant, author and daughter of Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson).
The round-robin collegiate baseball tournament was launched by Major League Baseball in 2008 to place an annual spotlight on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and their baseball programs which have produced some impactful Hall of Famers in base-swiping monster Lou Brock (Southern University) and 1987 NL MVP Andre “Hawk” Dawson (Florida A&M). Currently, Seattle Mariners infielder Rickie Weeks (Southern University) is an example of the talent that can be produced by the schools that MLB Network and MLB.com will feature in games this weekend.
HBCU’s aren’t exactly considered breeding grounds for elite baseball players, but there will be an abundance of brothers who can pick it, blast it, pitch it and gun it at extreme levels.
“The Urban Invitational is an extraordinary event that not only highlights the quality of HBCU baseball, but also the character of these young men who participate,” said Sharon Robinson.
In 2013’s MLB Draft eight HBCU players were taken, including three SWAC players. During the three-day event. Angel Rosa became the 12th player in Alcorn State baseball history to be selected via the draft and first since 2007, when Marcus Davis was snagged by the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2014, nine HBCU schools had players drafted, including four tournament alumni – the gem being Emmanuel Marrero, an Alabama State University alumnus, who was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the seventh round.
Since ‘08, 20 HBCU athletes who have played in the tournament have been selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft. This will be Southern University’s eighth Urban Invitational, making them the only school to have participated in every tournament. The Jaguars have struggled the past three seasons with an overall record of 57-77, but Southern’s had a lofty 94 MLB Draft selections since 1965.
Under the leadership of legendary baseball coach Roger Cador -- who took over as manager back in 1978 when afro puffs were official headwear for hot girls, Michael Jackson was still touring with his brothers and sister Shirley Chisholm six years removed from becoming the first woman to run for President -- Southern's won more regular season championships than any other SWAC member.
When Cador hit the scene, the Jags had virtually no equipment or facilities. He arranged a scrimmage with the Atlanta Braves -- then managed by his friend (long-time MLB manager) Dusty Baker -- and returned to Baton Rouge with a truck full of equipment for his team.
Cador, who played in the Braves organization for five years, flipped a few bats and gloves into a reputable SWAC baseball machine. He now flosses 13 conference championships, 13 SWAC Coach of the Year awards and four NCAA Regional appearances. He’s also produced 35 players who played professionally, or became coaches, umpires, or scouts, including 23 players drafted from 2001–2004. As one of the founding brain trusts of the Invitational, Cador's lifetime focus is bridging the gap between baseball and blacks and producing MLB-worthy ballers.
Grambling State will make its fourth appearance, the University of New Orleans will make its second appearance and Alcorn State University will be diamond-mining for the first time.
The Urban Invitational is more than just a tournament between some HBCU’s. Bringing visibility to black baseball and helping to re-establish a cultural connection with the black community is also one of the objectives of the tourney. It’s an extension of baseball’s increased efforts to diversify every aspect of the sport.
The New Orleans MLB Urban Youth Academy in Pontchartrain Park will host a private youth baseball clinic with players from each of the participating Urban Invitational teams, providing instruction to kids from the Academy and Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) programs.
A college and career fair will also be held at the University of New Orleans with ten colleges and universities on deck to provide information about college preparation, undergraduate/graduate degree programs, financial aid and scholarship opportunities.Local businesses will provide free career advice and discuss job opportunities with high school and college students from the surrounding areas.
In what is sure to be the highlight of the event, Sharon Robinson will meet with students (in grades 4-9) to discuss her father and educate them on his importance to world culture. She’ll also be helping them to craft and edit essays for the Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life essay contest, which is a chance for students across the U.S. and Canada to write an essay about how they use Jackie Robinson’s “Nine Values” to overcome their own barriers.
In true Bayou spirit, local high school bands also will have the opportunity to get low and boogie bass a bit.
The Urban Invitational will be like one big HBCU Football Classic with all of the trimmings. The only difference is, the crowd will be watching a baseball game.
It’s a great way of re-infusing baseball into the “black college experience” and creating excitement around the game, which is an acquired taste for most folks anyway. In a best case scenario the event will help in rebuilding a limp baseball culture that has lost its viability, historical seat at the “cool table” and overall appeal to a large majority of the African-American community.