First annual Swingman HBCU Classic sets stage for Black baseball players

First annual event brought in over 15,000 fans during All-Star Week in Seattle.

The first-ever Swingman HBCU Classic was held at T-Mobile Park to kick off the 2023 All-Star action on July 7.

“To see this many African-American ball players in one spot is awesome,” Mariners play-by-play and baseball historian Dave Simms said.

Ken Griffey Jr. in partnership with MLB Youth Academy and the MLB looked to showcase players from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and give them exposure that quite frankly has never been there.

“It’s the first time something of this magnitude happened on this side of the country. It’s very important to have Junior’s name on it ... His logo kicks everything into overtime,” Simms said.

Ken Griffey Jr. in the dugout talking with the MLB Network broadcast of the HBCU Classic.

Ken Griffey Jr. in the dugout talking with the MLB Network broadcast of the HBCU Classic.

The game ended with the American League winning 4-3 in a tightly contested ballgame. But it was about more than the play on the field. It was about bringing the HBCU baseball culture into the spotlight here in the Pacific Northwest.

The closest HBCU to Seattle is Langston University in Oklahoma. The Lions campus is 1,982 miles away from T-Mobile Park, nevertheless, the crowd was spectacular. Over 15,000 fans were in attendance and it provided one of the most exciting environments possible. “It speaks volumes when you think about the number of black people that showed up for this event tonight,” National League manager Bo Porter said.

HBCU and MLB Legends alike were in full force for the first Swingman Classic. Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. Herold Reynolds, Sam Allen, Pedro Sierra, Andre Dawson and Adam Jones were just a few of the legends who were seen at the ballpark.

Having “Swingman” and Ken Griffey Jr. attached to an event like this is something special, and something that will keep the game strong. “With this being the first one and having Griffey’s name attached to it, there is no other place that we should have had it. I think it’s something Griffey Jr. will cherish for a long time and the city of Seattle will cherish for a long time,” Porter said.

The ability to give these players from the southeast a spotlight was something important for not only Junior but the coaching staff as well. “I told Griffey Jr. last night, if I don’t do anything else in baseball this is one of my proudest days for me,” Porter said.

MLB legend and Florida A&M alumni Andre Dawson echoed the same sentiment.

“I think this was the right place for it (HBCU Classic). For them to see what that experience is like... Cities where the players reside where they’re from? ITs vast, all over the country. But for young people to actually witness it firsthand what that environment is like. It was absolutely necessary for it to be here,” Dawson said.

Randy Flores was the game MVP going 1-1 with a double, stolen base and scored the game-winning run in the eighth inning. For him, playing in this game and winning the MVP was something surreal. “I’m so grateful for this opportunity. I got one at-bat today and it happened to be in a tight situation in the game,” he said. “To be able to get this (MVP) in the first-ever Swingman Classic, it’s just unexplainable,” Flores said.

The first-ever Swingman HBCU Classic was held at T-Mobile Park to kick off the 2023 All-Star action on July 7.

The first-ever Swingman HBCU Classic was held at T-Mobile Park to kick off the 2023 All-Star action on July 7.

Xavier Meachem showed his stuff and might have even helped his draft stock. The hard-throwing right-hander touched 96 MPH in his two innings of work. The sophomore from Winterville, North Carolina enjoyed the atmosphere at T-Mobile, “It was an amazing environment, it was crazy seeing all those people I had some butterflies and was a little nervous. It was a great turnout,“ Meachem said.

Baseball is a game driven by the youth, showing kids in Seattle that there is a way to go if don’t make it to a Power Five school is an important message that the HBCU Swingman Classic is trying to show. “It broadens your horizons even more...Not everybody’s got it out for a Power Five conference athletics, but you can go to an HBCU. Hey, if you shine, they’re going to find you,” said Simms.

The 2024 All-Star festivities will be in Arlington, Texas, and the coaches are excited for what will be the second HBCU Classic.

“Wait till next year when we’re closer to the SWAC and play in Texas. You really understand the culture of HBCU schools and programs, those schools love to party,” Dawson said.