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HBCU Swingman Classic Set The Tone For 2023 MLB All-Star Week

Impact of inaugural event felt on and off the diamond.

Seattle, WA – The festive bunting has been rolled up and stored, players have returned home, and a very special game is now part of Major League Baseball All-Star history. Listen closely and you can still hear the pre-game rhythmic beats of the drumline and the powerful rendition of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

The “HBCU Swingman Classic (the Classic) presented by T-Mobile and powered by the Major League Baseball-Major League Baseball Player’s Association (MLB-MLBPA) Youth Development Foundation (YDF)” is a long name for a celebration that was a long time coming.

Leading off the 2023 All-Star festivities in Seattle at T-Mobile Park, the event was built on the foundation of honoring legacy and tradition, while supporting the future.

The Classic featured a talented roster of 50 invited baseball players from 17 Division 1, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), divided into two teams, led by former MLB managers Jerry Manuel and Bo Porter. The players were selected from schools where baseball student-athletes are rarely on the national radar.

Seattle gave them a Major League experience and more.

They participated in a variety of meaningful on- and off-field experiences designed to help them continue their development as student-athletes, young adults and baseball players. Education, leadership, mentorship, luncheons and dinners featuring Major League veterans and legends were built in over three full days, as well as a local community service project.

“We are constantly looking for ways to support these students off the field,” said YDF Executive Director Jean Lee Batrus who, along with close friend and YDF Ambassador Ken Griffey, Jr., spearheaded the Classic planning and execution.

Reached in Vero Beach, FL, where she was following the YDF-supported Hank Aaron Invitational, Batrus was still processing the whirlwind that was Seattle – a culmination of two years of intense planning, organizing and collaboration.

“It was a mix of fun, exhaustion and exhilaration,” she said. Citing higher than expected attendance of 16,000, and the amount of positive media coverage, she was more than satisfied with the results and momentum generated for the future.

“The outcomes exceeded what I imagined, and we have so much tailwind now,” she said enthusiastically.

The HBCU players were in awe of meeting their idols. Tommy Easley, a senior a Alabama A&M University described the experience as “surreal,” explaining, “Wow, I'm seeing people who I’ve watched on TV, and I'm getting a chance to talk to them, so it doesn't even seem real.”

HBCU alumni were well-represented in the coaches circle and included Andre Dawson (Florida A&M University), Rickie Weeks, Jr. (Southern University), Ralph Garr (Grambling State University), legendary HBCU coach Roger Cador (Southern University), Marquis Grissom (Florida A&M University) and Vince Coleman (Florida A&M).

The college kids weren’t the only ones excited about meeting or crossing paths their idols.

For example, Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, special assistant to the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association was thrilled to run into former teammates and share the special camaraderie of baseball.

“I was so glad to see Cito Gaston,” said the 22-year MLB veteran and 12-time MLB All-Star. “Clarence. Cito. Gaston. He was the first Black manager to win a World Series. And I was on that first one that he won. How about this? We were teammates when I was a youngster just starting. And then later, 18, 19 years later, I'm on his team. So it's stories like that we laugh about, we joke, and we embrace one another.”

Prior to the game the coaches – all veterans and legends – sat in the dugout and regaled each other with hilarious and outrageous stories of their playing days. The tales told were loud, funny and maybe even a little exaggerated at times. But nobody was about to fact check.

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