A trio of HBCU baseball programs took part in the fourth annual Urban Invitational at Compton, Calif., the first time that’s happened since the event’s founding: Bethune-Cookman, Grambling and Southern. The tournament was rounded out by UC Irvine and aired live by MLB Network and MLB.com, with announcers Greg Amsinger and Harold Reynolds.
“It was great,” said Grambling State coach James Cooper. “It was a nice stage for the nation to see some HBCU baseball, and I’m glad that so many big leaguers were here for their support at the invitational. We were just happy to be invited.”
Tommy Davis, Al Downing, Ken Landreaux, Dave Stewart, Maury Wills, Lou Johnson and Jim “Mudcat” Grant each threw out ceremonial first pitches. Meanwhile, Grambling defeated Bethune-Cookman 5-3 and UC Irvine downed Southern 7-1 to open the tournament. Then No. 26 UC Irvine remained perfect on the season with a 9-3 win on Saturday over Bethune-Cookman, while Grambling topped its in-state Southwestern Athletic Conference rival Southern 8-4 on Saturday.
The Grambling-Southern game on Saturday was called with two outs in the top of the eighth as inclement weather moved in. “It’s not like we were freezing the game to wait out the rain,” added Cooper, skipper of the reigning SWAC baseball champion. “It feels good to be 2-0 away from home. Any time you can win on the road, it’s a good thing.”
Grambling’s Jeremy Knuckles knocked in a three-run triple in the seventh to help his team overcome a two-run deficit, on the way to U.S. Army Player of the Game honors. Southern’s Taylor Roy and Bethune-Cookman’s Brandon Turner, who hit a solo homer, received similar awards.
On Sunday, Bethune-Cookman topped Southern 12-7 while UC Irvine’s bested Grambling 20-0. The Wildcats’ victory meant the program avoided going 0-3 for the first time in their four appearances in the invitational. Bethune’s D.J. Leonard (2-for-3, with three runs scored; RBI) was named the U.S. Army Player of the Game for his team on Sunday. Wilmy Marrero (4-for-5; solo home run) was honored for Southern.
“This event is a first-class event,” said coach Mervyl Melendez, whose Bethune-Cookman program has claimed five straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles. “Not many people get a chance to be a part of it, so we’re just excited we’re back here for a fourth consecutive year.”
A battle of the bands was held between the two games of the doubleheader, as Southern University’s “Human Jukebox” and Bethune-Cookman’s “Marching Wildcats” performed. As many as 15 Major League Baseball scouts were reportedly on hand.
Southern coach Roger Cador, now 0-3 in invitiational play, took the tough weekend in stride: “It’s a little tough, but I’m not that concerned about it. There are lot worse things that can happen to you in life. We’re playing to get experience and get better.”