By Joe Reedy
LOS ANGELES (AP)—Major League Baseball's largest developmental effort for minority players is being renamed after one of the sport's greatest players.
The Elite Development Invitational has been renamed the Hank Aaron Invitational and will include a showcase game beginning next season. The event has been held since 2015 for high-school age players to get them to the next levels of the game either on or off the field. The program has been run by Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association and USA Baseball.
The announcement was made at Dodger Stadium on Friday before Game 3 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It means an awful lot to me. We need someone to help shape this game into what the game is all about. And the game is about all of us, not just a few of us, but all of us who have an opportunity and a chance to play this game,” Aaron said.
The Hank Aaron Invitational will be held in July and August at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. Approximately 250 players ages 13 to 18 will receive training from former big league players and coaches. Recent instructors in the program have included Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Dave Winfield along with former manager Jerry Manuel.
The top 44 players will then be invited to Atlanta to play in a special showcase game at SunTrust Park as part of the “Hank Aaron Week” festivities put on each year by the Braves. The program will also include presentations on college availability, potential job opportunities within the sport and visits to cultural sites around the city.
“It's been a great success for us. Being able to add Hank and his legacy is going to enhance it and bring more opportunities,” said Tony Reagins, who oversees MLB's youth programs.
Over the past four years, the Elite Development Invitational has seen more than 100 alumni playing in the minors or in college. Five players have been drafted in the first seven rounds the past two years including Hunter Greene, who was a first-round selection by the Reds in 2017.
“This has been a joint program that has truly made a difference, we believe, in not just the development of a number of young people that have come through the program on the field, but also off the field, as well,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said.
According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association Participation Report from 2016, baseball participation among African-American youth was higher than football (3.8 percent to. 3.4 percent). Overall, baseball has seen a 49.1 percent increase in casual participation.
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