Friday night at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Washington, was a historic one at the house that Ken Griffey Jr. built.
Seattle’s greatest athlete returned to the city he shined in for so many years as the point man for Major League Baseball’s inaugural HBCU Swingman Classic, featuring 50 of the best NCAA Division I Black College baseball players.
A collaboration between MLB and Griffey’s Nike Swingman line, the classic gave HBCU baseball players the opportunity to play in a major league ballpark and be seen by MLB scouts.
“It’s been great to see the smiles on the guys’ faces and their attitudes about being here, which is what we wanted,” Griffey said during an in-game interview with Dave Sims and former Mariners teammate Harold Reynolds. He also mentioned that exposure and access were keys to his own Hall of Fame career.
“I grew up differently – my dad played baseball,” he said of his father, all-star outfielder Ken Griffey Sr. “Not everybody can play at a Power 5 conference or pay the $30-40,000 a year to go one of those schools. I’ve found that the lower the level, the more that guys want to be a part of [baseball].”
And those who were in Seattle Friday night did not disappoint.
Xavier Meachem, the hard-throwing right-hander from North Carolina A&T, started the game for the American League, allowing just one hit in two innings of work as his teammates scratched out an early 3-0 lead behind two RBI from Texas Southern infielder Daelen Adderley.
The National League rallied to tie the game at 3 in the top of the eighth thanks to a sacrifice fly from Adderley’s TxSU teammate Alexander Olivo, but the American League had a one-man response in the bottom of the frame.
Alabama State infielder Randy Flores blistered a double down the right field line with one out in the eighth, stole third base and then scored on a passed ball to give the AL a lead once again at 4-3. Alabama State pitcher Omar Melendez picked up the win, retiring the National League in order in the top of the ninth.
MLB Network’s coverage of the game allowed for several key voices in Black baseball to be heard, especially FAMU legends Andre Dawson and Vince Coleman, who regaled listeners with their stories of their baseball – and in Coleman’s case, football – years on the Highest of Seven Hills. Also joining the broadcast were former Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia and ESPN’s Clinton Yates.
Griffey has a FAMU connection as well (his son Tevin is a defensive back on the Rattlers’ football team), and hopes that the Swingman classic will continue to grow the game in areas that had long been forgotten.
“I remember when I was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Joe Morgan told me I was going to sit on the Hall of Fame committee, do all these things, and I looked at him like, ‘I’m not doing all that,’” he said. “Then, when it happened, I didn’t even have to say a word; all Joe did was laugh. I want these guys to see that even if you don’t make it professionally, you can still be involved with the game you love.”