By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO

Two events designed to attract more African American youth participation to the national pastime will be played during the Major League Baseball’s All-Star weekend celebration around the District of Columbia.

The Major Junior Baseball League (MJBL) and MLB are giving inner city teams an unprecedented stage by hosting two tournaments. MJLB will play its seventh annual East West All-Star Game at Maury Wills Park (formerly Banneker Field) across from Howard University on June 16. Meanwhile the inaugural MLB Commissioner’s Cup and Jennie Finch Classic for boys and girls will be played between Gallaudet University and the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy June 13-16.

Kids from the D.C. metro area are among those who will participate in the first MLB Commissioner’s Cup and Jennie
Finch Classic at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy and Gallaudet University July 14-16. (Courtesy Photo)

MLB’s Commissioner’s Cup and Finch Classic are nine-team exhibitions for baseball and softball players between 14-16 years old who are developing their skills at youth academies around the country. Those academies, funded by franchises around the league, are part of the league’s initiative to expose urban kids to on field and off professional opportunities once they can no longer play the sport while growing a younger fan base.

Teams representing Compton, New Orleans, Houston, New York, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Dallas and D.C. will enjoy the gamut of festivities while playing games at the Nationals’
Academy and Gallaudet University.

MJBL’s East West All-Star Game is a one day, four team, event preserving the legacy of the midseason showcase of talent during the days of the Negro Leagues. The teams won’t feature vintage uniforms or bear names honoring the former teams but, the format guarantees each team will play two games with a championship hanging in the balance.

MJBL organizers are hoping to gain national attention since this year’s event will be played in the same city that will host the MLB all-star game festivities. While the league will see one of its alumni – San Diego Padres outfield prospect Buddy Reed – play in the Sirius/XM Futures Game Sunday its organizers see baseball providing more opportunities than just turning professional for young Black athletes.

“We’re trying to eliminate the barriers that keep African American kids away from baseball,” MJBL Executive Director William Forrester told the {AFRO}. “Naturally if the player has the right skills set to make to the pros that’s fantastic but this, hopefully. is a platform to springboard them toward college scholarships.”

Playing at Wills Park is symbolic because it was the home field for Howard University’s last team in 2002 which was coached by current Prince George’s County Community College assistant and former MLB player Jimmy O. Williams before it was eliminated. Less than four percent of Division I major college players are African American. Williams, a D.C. native and Eastern High graduate, hopes that young players will consider the option of playing college baseball at HBCUs from this exposure.”

“I’m looking forward to being back at our old field for this event” Williams said. “If our Blacks kids are going to have somewhere to play college baseball, Howard University and
our other HBCUs must continue offering the sport.”

MJBL hopes that by staging this event on the same day as MLB’s Home Run Derby they can benefit from the media attention prior to the teams heading south to Greensboro, North
Carolina for its 28th Inner City Classic. That event is also partially sponsored by MLB and its Players Association.