03/03/08 3:20 AM ET
Urban Invitational ends as a success
UCLA goes undefeated to win tournament
By Ben Platt / MLB.com
"It has been a tremendous opportunity to showcase the historical black colleges and universities [HBCUs] and a chance for the Commissioner's initiative on African-Americans' participation in baseball to be even further enhanced," said Major League Baseball executive vice president of operations Jimmie Lee Solomon.
"What really struck me, though, is we had over 3,500 people here at the academy on Saturday night. People stayed here past midnight, cheering, watching the games -- we had kids running around and the crowd was extremely diverse. You can't tell me that the African-American population is not interested in our game."
Things got started Sunday afternoon when Bethune-Cookman University bounced back from a tough loss to UCLA the night before with a big 10-4 win over Southern University in the meeting of the two HBCU teams. Big rallies in the fourth and seventh innings helped the Wildcats put Southern away.
"Southern [University] is the program that everyone knows and looks at in black college baseball," said Bethune-Cookman head coach Mervyl Melendez after the game.
"I have so much respect for Coach [Roger] Cador and that program as a whole, that it means a lot to finally play them. It doesn't matter that it is in California without a lot of our fans or theirs, but it matters that Bethune-Cookman University was able to take the field against a top-notch coach and program like Southern University. It's the program you look to be like, and then make your own improvements based on a blueprint from that first-class, storied program."
Meanwhile, down the 110 freeway at Dedeaux Field, second baseman Alden Carrithers delivered a two-run, go-ahead double in the eighth while Brandon Lafferty threw five scoreless innings in relief as the UCLA Bruins defeated the USC Trojans, 4-3. The Bruins won the tournament, going undefeated on the weekend with wins over Bethune-Cookman and Southern, while the Trojans finished 2-1 on the weekend.
With the games over, the memories are already beginning.
"The experience of it all, and to see the commitment that Major League Baseball has made, and having the chance to play USC, UCLA and Bethune-Cookman -- opponents that Southern University has never played before, meant a lot to us," said Cador.
"Even though we didn't win any of the games, we learned a lot, we got better as a team, and the experience of it all we will take with us forever.
"When I think about the people who turned out -- next year more people will hear about it and want to come and experience it, because someone is going to tell them how wonderful it was or they saw it on ESPN. I can't tell you how many e-mails and text messages I got this morning from people back East who stayed up and watched the games."
All of this is good news for Solomon and academy director Darrell Miller, who worked hard to get the tournament off the ground. For Solomon, one memory from the event really stands out.
"The vibe from the games Saturday night was so fantastic," recalled Solomon, who will next help stage the second annual Civil Rights Game at the end of the month in Memphis, Tenn. "The two bands playing -- that was a feel that we should feel more in our industry -- I mean, USC's marching band and Southern Universities' Human Jukebox, really, really made this a special event.
"At the end of the evening, when the games were over, the Southern marching band started marching up and down the thoroughfare here and it was like Mardi Gras, and there were at least 500 people still here, just dancing and enjoying it, and they didn't want to leave."
Which means, we'll be seeing more Urban Invitationals down the road.
Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.