Southern baseball preparing to compete in Urban Invitational _lowres

Advocate file photo by APRIL BUFFINGTON -- Southern coach Roger Cador

When Southern baseball coach Roger Cador initially agreed to have his team participate in Major League Baseball’s first Urban Invitational, he wasn’t quite sure what his team was getting into.

Nearly a decade later, Cador said that it was one of the best decisions he’s made as Southern’s coach.

The Jaguars will kick off the season with three games in the ninth edition of the annual tournament, which works alongside the Urban Youth Academy to shed a light on the baseball programs of historically black colleges and universities.

Along with Southern, the other teams participating in the nine-game round-robin tournament will be Grambling, Alcorn State, Prairie View, UNO and Louisiana Tech.

Southern plays Grambling on Friday, Louisiana Tech on Saturday and Alcorn State on Sunday, with all the games being played at Wesley Barrow Stadium.

“It’s tremendous to be a part of it because we get the national and worldwide publicity just for being there,” Cador said. “We’ve done very well with the MLB and the facilities they’ve provided for us, along with the programs, and it’s gone a long way in helping our growth.”

Two of the games during the tournament will be broadcast live on MLB.com and MLB Network and there will also be a special tribute paid to former major leaguer and Nicholls State player Darryl Hamilton, who died last year and assisted with the broadcast for last year’s Urban Invitational.

Major League Baseball uses the tournament to help with the growth of the Urban Youth Academy and spread baseball to different urban communities. More than 25 players who have participated in the tournament over the past nine years have been selected in in the MLB draft.

“Having this program is so important, not just from a facility standpoint, but also from a program standpoint,” said Tony Reagins, the MLB’s Senior Vice President of Youth Programs.

“It helps us reach the community of kids that love baseball but might not have the necessary facilities or avenues to pursue that dream. And it’s not just players. We also assist with the broadcasting side and other parts of the game that may be outside of the lines.”

The continued growth of the Urban Invitational and other MLB programs like the Urban Youth Academy have begun to pay dividends for some of the initial participants in the program.

Former Alcorn State outfielder Earl Burl III became the first member of the New Orleans Urban Youth Academy to get drafted when the Toronto Blue Jays selected him in the 30th round of the 2015 draft.

In 50 games with the Vancouver Canadians, a Blue Jays minor league team, Burl is hitting .216 with 15 RBIs and 17 runs.

First-year Alcorn State coach Brett Richardson said having a player like Burl move on to the next level from an HBCU inspires his players and some of the younger children that hope to one day reach some of the goals Burl has accomplished.

“It means a lot for us, but even more for the kids that come and watch Earl train,” Richardson said. “It’s good for those kids to see him and truly envision themselves reaching those heights, as long as they are willing to put in the work he has over the years.”