Hank Aaron still fighting for diversity in baseball

Hank Aaron

ATLANTA — When Brian Hunter and other former major league players were in the presence of Hank Aaron, they acted like teenagers, standing, pointing and trying to get pictures when he entered the room.

Someone whispered, “there he is.”

The vibe in the room quickly changed upon Aaron’s arrival at an Atlanta restaurant earlier this month to talk with 44 high school players, mostly African-Americans. The visit was part of Aaron’s ongoing efforts for more diversity in baseball.

Hunter, who has been coaching some of the players, said that the 85-year-old Hall of Famer has that effect on baseball players of all ages. The high school players in attendance had a similar impact on Aaron.

“It fills my heart, really makes me feel very proud,” Aaron said.

The players were selected to participate in the inaugural Hank Aaron Invitational exhibition game at SunTrust Park. The event, formerly called the Elite Development Invitational, was renamed for Aaronlast year.

Aaron has lobbied for efforts to encourage more young black athletes to choose baseball and he supports this diversity initiative by Major League Baseball.

Players were taken on a civil rights tour of Atlanta that included the home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the King Center and King’s former church, Ebenezer Baptist. Former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, 87, joined Aaron for a question-and-answer session with the teens.

The high school sophomores, juniors and seniors were coached by Hunter, the former first baseman with the Atlanta Braves and other teams, and other former players, including Marquis Grissom, Tom Gordon, Marvin Freeman, Michael Tucker, Jerry Royster and Ty Waller, in Vero Beach, Florida. The top 44 — Aaron’s uniform number — were selected from a field of 250 players ages 13 to 18.

The program is designed to encourage teens from diverse backgrounds to remain in the game. (read more)

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