The Urban Invitational is back for the 2011 season, and for the first time, three Historically Black Colleges and Universities will be showcased.
In its fourth year, the Invitational -- set up by Major League Baseball's first Urban Youth Academy, in Compton, Calif. -- will run from Feb. 25-27, with HBCUs Southern University (in Louisiana) and Bethune-Cookman (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) returning, and Grambling State University (Louisiana) joining the fold. Also playing in the collegiate round-robin tournament is the University of California Irvine, a first-time participant.
The Invitational, presented by the U.S. Army, gives HBCUs a chance to play on a national stage, something that rarely happens. This year they'll get that exposure once again, as MLB Network will air both games on Day 2, which is a Saturday.
That morning there will once again be a high school Battle of the Bands, followed by a college fair that about 20 schools have already confirmed attending. Each team will play three games in the tournament, with the UYA and the campus of California Irvine serving as venues.
|2/25||6:30 p.m.||Southern v. UC Irvine||UC Irvine|
|2/25||6 p.m.||B-C v. Grambling||UYA|
|2/26||1 p.m.||UC Irvine v. B-C*||UYA|
|2/26||5 p.m.||Grambling v. Southern*||UYA|
|2/27||1 p.m.||Grambling v. UC Irvine||UC Irvine|
|2/27||1 p.m.||Southern v. B-C||UYA|
The Invitational began in 2008, and in 2009 it was spotlighted by eventual No. 1 Draft pick Stephen Strasburg, at that time the ace of Tony Gwynn's San Diego State University team.
Last year -- which saw UCLA go undefeated -- Hall of Famers Frank Robinson and Rod Carew, as well as former MVP and Cy Young Award winner Don Newcombe, threw out ceremonial first pitches to former Dodgers greats Kenny Landreaux, Tommy Davis and Al Downing on Day 2. There was also a clinic for Little Leaguers and the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, MVP awards for each team, the Battle of the Bands and the college fair.
This year they'll hope for another successful showing.
"We're happy to showcase competitive Historically Black College teams and show there are so many great opportunities for young men and women to attend these schools, even if they're not trying to play baseball," said Darrell Miller, who oversees MLB's Urban Youth Academies.
"We're really looking forward to this year's event, and we're excited to bring it back."
Last year, Grambling State won the Southwestern Atlantic Conference championship, with conference foe Southern University reaching the semifinals. Bethune-Cookman, meanwhile, claimed its fifth consecutive Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference title. UC Irvine reached the finals of the Los Angeles Super Regional in the NCAA Division I baseball tournament.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Gonzo and 'The Show'. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.