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HBCU Baseball

Four HBCU teams playing in unique MLB-sponsored tournament in New Orleans

The Urban Invitational Youth Academy has helped get athletes to the major leagues

While the sports world is focused on New Orleans because of the NBA All-Star Weekend, several historically black colleges and universities’ (HBCUs) baseball teams are playing in a unique tournament with the help of Major League Baseball.

Alcorn State, Grambling State, Prairie View A&M and Southern University will open their seasons by returning to the 10th annual Urban Invitational at the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy. The round-robin tournament from Friday to Sunday will highlight their baseball programs and efforts to increase African-American participation in baseball.

All of Saturday’s games will air on MLB Network and MLB.com, with play-by-play from Scott Braun and analysis from former All-Star outfielder Cliff Floyd. And Southern University will wear Negro League uniforms in commemoration of Black History Month.

Two new schools, the University of New Orleans and the University Illinois at Chicago, will be playing additional games as well at Maestri Field at Privateer Park.

This year’s tournament features eight members of the Chicago White Sox Amateur City Elite program, a special initiative that supports quality baseball instruction for the city’s inner-city players. Those eight members of the Elite program, all former players of the teams in the ’17 tournament, will help their squads this weekend in the Urban Invitational.

The New Orleans MLB Youth Academy at Wesley Barrow Stadium in historic Pontchartrain Park opened in 2012, replacing a 55-year-old facility that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The facility offers youth programs that provides free, year-round baseball and softball instruction for more than 2,500 young people in southern Louisiana. Besides sports instruction, the academy offers after-school homework assistance, ACT prep, broadcasting, sports law, graphic design and gaming, field maintenance, and scouting and umpiring programs.

MLB’s youth initiatives will be well-represented at the Urban Invitational as 12 players on this year’s rosters are alumni of MLB Youth Academies, RBI programs or MLB Development Camps, such as the Breakthrough Series. Two years ago, Earl Burl III, who played at Alcorn State, was the first player to be drafted out of the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy. In the 2016 draft, Tyree Thompson became the second player to be drafted out of the New Orleans Academy.

John X. Miller is the senior HBCU editor for Andscape. He's a father, jazz aficionado and die-hard UNC basketball fan.