HBCU baseball talent on display at Andre Dawson Classic
Dawson, one of only two former HBCU players in baseball’s Hall of Fame, says FAMU helped him get there
It’s been 23 years since Andre Dawson played baseball, yet his legacy continues to inspire players in the baseball world.
Last year, the Urban Invitational, the annual collegiate tournament showcasing historically black college and university (HBCU) baseball programs, was renamed the Andre Dawson Classic. When Dawson heard about the name change, he was surprised.
Dawson had received many accolades over his 21-year career, including an MVP award and being voted a Hall of Famer, but this was unexpected. He didn’t realize that he and Lou Brock were the only baseball Hall of Famers who attended HBCUs.
“It never really even dawned on me. It amazed me more than anything, because there is a vast number of black Hall of Famers,” Dawson said.
Dawson’s journey started at Florida A&M University (FAMU), which three of his uncles had attended.
“For me, it was learning how to grow up away from home. That was the most challenging thing,” Dawson said.
Dawson’s dreams of going to the pros started in middle school.
“Baseball was the only thing I knew growing up and the only thing I wanted to do,” he said. Although he was motivated by his dreams, Dawson recalls making a promise with a high school friend that he would try out for FAMU’s baseball team. He did more than keep the promise by making the team as a freshman and being placed in the starting lineup right away.
Dawson, considered one of the top HBCU athletes of all time, was drafted in 1975 and went on to play for the Montreal Expos, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and Florida Marlins. He is on the list of 55 players who hit 400 career home runs.
He fought for his chance in the limelight and to be seen by scouts even though he attended an HBCU. This tournament is a chance for baseball players to strive, to be given their chance. “For a lot of them it’s an opportunity. It’s going to be their first time ever to get this type of national exposure,” Dawson said.
“The ultimate goal is for some of them — I know not the majority of them, but some of them — to just be able to aspire and get to the next level.”
FAMU will participate in this year’s tournament for the first time. Dawson will attend to see the Rattlers play.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting moment for me. The program suffered so much over the years, and now with [head coach] Jamey Shouppe at the helm, he has really changed that program around,” Dawson said.
Many people, especially Florida residents, have been happy about MLB renaming the tournament to honor Dawson.
“He’s such a household name in the Tallahassee area because of his connection to FAMU,” said Shouppe. “There’s only one guy that played college baseball [in Tallahassee] and made it to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame — and no one from Florida State has ever done that — and that’s, of course, Andre Dawson.”
On Shouppe’s team, some of his players look up to Dawson’s accomplishments and are excited he’s a product of FAMU. “He came here and did what he was supposed to and got better and went off to major league baseball and did great things there,” Shouppe said. “It just proves that anything can happen, even when you go to a smaller school.”
Shouppe’s players are motivated just from walking in the same hallways as Dawson. For Octavien Moyer, a junior majoring in sport occupational therapy who started playing baseball at 5 years old, Dawson is a role model.
“He’s definitely a person you aspire to be like, whether that’s on the baseball field or off,” Moyer said. “It’s an honor because he went to our school, and for us to participate in the Classic.”
Dawson’s name is prominent in HBCU baseball, and players at other schools are taking an interest in his success. Outfielder Isaiah Torres always looked up to former major league catcher Victor Martinez until he got to Grambling.
“Martinez is a Latino like me, and I like the way he goes about his business and his approach,” Torres said. “Going to an HBCU, I have learned more about him [Dawson]. I know he’s an African-American Hall of Famer.”
Learning about Dawson’s journey from college to the pros gives Torres hope of making it himself. “It’s tough to come out of an HBCU, especially in baseball,” he said.
As a person of color, Torres can relate to the adversity that Dawson had to experience. “At that time, it was [rare] to have African-American ballplayers to play in the big leagues, and then on top of that to become a Hall of Famer,” Torres said.
“He broke some walls down and paved the way for other guys too.”
The Andre Dawson Classic takes place from Friday through Sunday at the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy. Eight teams will participate: Alabama State, Alcorn State, Grambling, Prairie View A&M, Southern, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Florida A&M and non-HBCU Eastern Kentucky.
Dawson is confident that someone who is participating in the tournament can become the third Hall of Famer from an HBCU, but only when the player has the dedication and practices his craft relentlessly.
“Believe in your talent, believe in your ability,” Dawson said. “You’ve got to surround yourself, I think, with the right personnel, people who are going to encourage you, people who will work with you and support you.”