Finding A Diamond in the Rough at HBCU Baseball Showcase
“Chip” Lawrence, National Cross-Checker for the San Diego Padres, hung up his baseball cleats 20 years ago after a career in minor league baseball and began scouting professionally. Like any red-blooded American baseball player, he knew he wanted to stay in the game beyond his playing days and help other youngsters find success in college and possibly a career in baseball.
“There are so many jobs in baseball other than on the field,” Lawrence said, taking a break from the HBCU/All College Baseball Showcase he brings to Atlanta each year to introduce Black baseball players to college coaches from the nation’s HBCUs.
“I want these kids to know there is life after baseball, but it starts with a good education, so I bring college baseball coaches and high school players together each year,” Lawrence explained.
“If you have a passion for baseball, there are many jobs off the field. If you know about them, the main thing is knowing that those jobs exist. We try to make them aware of the many opportunities in baseball in the front office,” Lawrence offered.
Three years ago, in an era when the number of Black American youngsters playing baseball beyond “Tee Ball” was on the decline, Lawrence developed a foundation to mentor young people. The showcase is an offshoot of the foundation. The exhibition brings primarily Black high school players together with Black college baseball coaches.
Over a two-day weekend in the fall each year, Lawrence’s Pro-Youth Foundation and PRO (providing Resources and Opportunities) brings in 100 kids per day and runs them through a pro-style showcase.
In addition to hitting, fielding and pitching drills, the aspiring college baseballers ran a 60-yard dash. Although the game does not require a player to run 60 yards, the bolt does project a player’s athleticism, and the speed has been known to keep a young player in a baseball program long enough for them to develop in other areas of the game.
The 60-yard dash drill also points out areas where a player can improve his running technique, which will enable him to impress professional scouts with his agility.
Lawrence also has professional scouts on hand to help him run the kids through the paces of a professional showcase. This year there were representatives from the Oakland A’s, Pittsburg Pirates, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres, and Texas Rangers.
“Our scouts are very supportive of what we are doing here. They run the various stations. We try to identify some talent in the area and have them out here so the scouts can get something out of volunteering their time. We give the scouts a chance to put someone on their board for the spring,” Lawrence pointed out.
While scouts ensure that the kids get a professional workout, this year, Lawrence brought in “Mr. Seven Thousand,” Mike Mosley, an athletic trainer, to throw batting practice to the showcase participants.
A native of California, at age 12, Mosley started throwing batting practice to professional teams in the area. After high school, he enrolled in Southern Cal-Fullerton. When an injury cut a promising baseball career short, Mosley became a batting practice pitcher. He has worked with some of the best, including Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson, Barry Bonds. Ken Griffey, Jr. Deion Sanders, Rod Crew, Mike Cameron, and Daz Cameron, the son of Mike Cameron.
“I am going to throw batting practice to a hundred kids today and a hundred kids tomorrow. I will be throwing Ninety-eight percent strikes,” he said.
Mosley describes the objective of a good batting practice pitcher as, “Being firm. Throwing the ball over the plate so they can see the ball, hit the ball, and work on their craft. You want the batter to get a good swing on the ball.”
Mosely, at 58 years of age, says he plans to keep throwing at least until he is 100 years old. He is currently the personal trainer of Daz Cameron, a triple-A prospect with the Detroit Tigers. Mosely believes Cameron will make the big-league club next season. Although Mosley is Cameron’s trainer, the Tigers give him access to the clubhouse, permits him to travel with the team, and provide housing for him when the team is on the road.
Rumor has it, Mosely left the showcase each day and threw BP to his professional clients in the metro Atlanta area. It helps to have a batting practice pitcher with a good arm.
A batting practice pitcher is one of many baseball-related jobs beyond college baseball. Also, each major league team employs bullpen catchers and handsomely pay them to warm up pitchers.
If a student has an aptitude for math and analytics, baseball offers a plethora of new jobs to help teams write the line-up and manage the game. The possibilities are endless.
In search of the smart student-athlete at the HBCU Baseball Showcase was James Randall, head baseball coach at Claflin University. Randall, a former major leaguer and star baseball player at Grambling University, has come to all three showcases seeking that unique blend of student-athlete who can successfully navigate the academic rigors at Claflin and the competitive play in the Peach Belt Conference where his team will compete for the first time in 2020.
While assessing baseball skill levels at the showcase, Randall also must consider the players’ academic background. Out of 1,692 liberal arts colleges in America, Claflin ranks number 62 as the most liberal college in the country. Claflin lists number 32 out of 299 schools for the best college for sports management. Its acceptance rate is 41 percent. An applicant has less than a 50 percent chance of gaining acceptance. Of the 31 South Carolina schools, Claflin is the third hardest to gain admittance. It ranks number four for having the best professors in South Carolina.
Nevertheless, Randall has been to all the HBCU Showcases.
“I come every year because a kid is not going to knock down your door anymore. There are a lot of schools out there trying to get the best talent. You have to go out and find the talent that is a fit for the team and the university,” Randall said.
“Last year, we brought a kid in from this showcase. His name is Charles Jackson from Macon, Georgia. Last week we had Pro Day, and he threw 92 on the radar gun. I appreciate what “Chip” Lawrence is doing bringing this baseball talent together from all over the country so we can recruit the best available players. I get to see kids from Arizona, Texas, Canada, Indiana, and California. There is no way a coach can see some of these kids if “Chip” did not put on this showcase,” Randall added.
One student-athlete who meets Randall’s qualifications on the academic side is Eddie Sullivan. He flew into Atlanta with his parents Ed and Tracy Sullivan from Indiana seeking to attract the attention of an academically elite HBCU school.
Sullivan knows he wants a career as a mechanical engineer when his college years end. He spoke with Antonio Grissom, Head Baseball Coach at Morehouse College and a representative from Tuskegee University. Both schools offer engineer degrees. Tuskegee has one of the oldest engineering schools of any HBCU, while Morehouse has a dual engineering program with Georgia Tech.
Coach Grissom made a strong pitch for Sullivan’s academic and athletic talent. However, a day before talking with Sullivan, Tuskegee University had accepted him into its freshman class for 2020.
Sullivan is keeping his options open as he looks forward to meeting with Tuskegee’s Head Baseball Coach Reginald Hollins. An unexpected death in the Tuskegee family prevented Hollins from attending the showcase, but he did send a representative to meet with Sullivan.
“I’ve always wanted to continue playing baseball in college. I did not know that there were opportunities available to me. The HBCU Showcase has shown me that there are opportunities to play college baseball. I had a very positive conversation with Mr. Antonio Grissom of Morehouse College. I was introduced to Coach Grissom by Hank Aaron, Jr. Meeting Coach Grissom could not have happened at any other showcase,” Sullivan said.
Then Sullivan added, “I would love to see Mr. “Chip” Lawrence and the Pro-Youth Foundation bring the showcase to the Indianapolis area. Some people don’t have the resources to travel to Atlanta for this event, but may want to take advantage of the exposure.”
Harold Michael Harvey is the author of Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received for his pro bono representation of Black college students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. An avid public speaker, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org