Hank Aaron Week came to a triumphant conclusion on Sunday, July 30, with the Hank Aaron Invitational. The invitational, which was played at Truist park, is put on by Major League Baseball-Major League Baseball Players Association (MLB-MLBPA) Youth Development Foundation (YDF).
Every year 250 of the top high school baseball players in the nation are invited to compete, become better athletes and even better young men at the Jackie Robinson training complex in Vero Beach, FL.
While at the training complex, players receive instruction and coaching from former MLB players within the MLBPA.
Out of the 250 players, 44 of those players are chosen to compete in the Hank Aaron Invitational. Twenty-two players represent Team Jackie Robinson and the other 22 represent Team Hank Aaron.
The Hank Aaron Invitational was previously known as the Elite Development Invitational, however, in 2019, the invitational was renamed to honor the legacy of former Atlanta Braves great and Baseball Hall of Fame inducteenHank Aaron. That same year, players were fortunate enough to meet Hank Aaron, and compete in front of him.
“I think Hank’s dream was to give a kid an opportunity to learn and play the game and to really give them an opportunity to do their very very best at what they are good at,” said former Atlanta Braves outfielder, Marquis Grissom.
Since 2019, there have been 40 alumni of the invitational, including three from this year’s roster, who have been selected in the MLB draft.
In fact, Atlanta Braves center fielder and 2022 Jackie Robinson National League Rookie of the Year, Michael Harris II, is an alumni of the Hank Aaron Invitational.
MLB Hall of Famer and Special Advisor to the Executive Director of the MLBPA, Dave Winfield, estimated since the creation of the Invitational in 2015, “We have probably coached and worked with a minimum of 750 to 1,000 kids. We have impacted the trajectory of their baseball involvement,” said Winfield
Participants shared what they learned during their time in the invitational.
“This invitational helps you make long term relationships, especially with the coaches,” said Justyn Hart. “The more you grow and the more you excel in this sport you are going to see them down the road. You are going to have that long term relationship that you made back when you were in high school at the invitational.”
Bruce Wyche said, “I learned to stick to your approach and stick to what got you here. As a person, just staying humble and staying level headed. We learned a lot about Hank Aaron and one of the things they kept saying was how humble he was, and I feel like that is very important.”
The Hank Aaron Invitational is played in Truist Park to honor Hank Aaron’s legacy and his career with the Braves. The Invitational also honors the careers of former Braves like Bill Lucas, who spent over 20 years in the Braves organization and was the first African American General Manager in MLB history; Fred “Crime Dog” McGriff, who was inducted in this year’s Hall of Fame Class and won the World Series with the Braves in 1995;
Ron Gant, Ralph Garr, Cito Gaston, and many others.
Reggie Waller, a consultant on behalf of the MLBPA and former minor leaguer, addressed the role of Hank Aaron Invitational in MLB’s effort to build diversity.
“I think more than anything else is visibility. It has gotten to a point where they said that there are no young Black players, and we know that is just not the case,” said Waller. “The players are out there. It is now just a matter of making sure that we highlight that and help afford opportunities for them to get into college and for MLB organizations to become familiar with who they are. That is the main thing. We provide hope, that is what the Hank Aaron Invitational does.”
Kindu Jones, the Senior Coordinator of Baseball Development for MLB, added, “Obviously, the goal is to identify players of color, most importantly the African American players. That is only going to help us enhance our game on the field level, but then, also, we discuss the other avenues that are in the game such as my role, my supervisor’s role, our security staff’s role. We try to expose those guys to those other avenues to let them know that there is life after baseball.”
Hank Aaron touched the lives of many and continues to do so through his memory, through his widow Mrs. Billye Aaron, through the Henry Louis Aaron Fund, through the Homers for Hank Program and through the Hank Aaron Invitational.