How the DREAM Series is helping reshape MLB

Jerry Manuel had dreamed of a moment like this. Last month for the first time in MLB history, he watched four black players go into the top five picks of the MLB draft: Druw Jones, Kumar Rocker, Termarr Johnson and Elijah Green. It felt like a monumental step after years of hard work by Manuel and many others to expand the game and change the culture of the sport.

During his career as a player and coach in Major League Baseball — including winning Manager of the Year with the Chicago White Sox in 2000 — Manuel had watched the number of black players grow from the youth through the big leagues went back.

“We keep trying to change the game but we’re losing a culture,” said Manuel. “We lost an important piece of the game if we didn’t take part in it.”

This drew Manuel to join the coaching staff of DREAM Series, an invitation-only show hosted by Major League Baseball that gives elite high school black players from across America the opportunity to perform in front of collegiate and pro baseball evaluators . The annual event, which began in 2017, takes place over Martin Luther King Jr.’s weekend at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Arizona, the Los Angeles Angels’ spring training home. The program has already had success with major leagues such as Cincinnati Reds pitcher Hunter Greene, who participated in the inaugural series. This year it’s bearing more fruit than ever, with the drafting of Jones, Rocker, Johnson and Green – all of whom have starred in the DREAM series.

“It takes time to develop and get things right,” said Del Matthews, MLB’s vice president of baseball development, who is black. “We’re just filling these kids with the right kind of staff and the right mentality and the right opportunities for the young kids. It’s starting to pay off.”

Manuel became involved with MLB’s diversity efforts beginning in 2012 and has helped lead the DREAM Series coaching staff since its inception in 2017. Ahead of the 2022 season, just 7.2% of players in opening-day rosters were Black, compared to 7.6% in 2021 and 18.7% in 1981. Manuel witnessed this change firsthand and saw the cost for youth baseball increased over the years as showcase events and travel balls became the predominant way to get players in front of pro and college scouts — making the cost prohibitive for many families.

Programs like the DREAM series counteract this trend, giving teams the opportunity to see players they would otherwise miss on the travel and presentation circuits.

“We’re missing parts right now,” said Manuel. “We miss Willie Mays. We miss Hank Aaron. We miss Ozzie Smith. We miss all these guys. We have to find that and we have to find these parts. These parts didn’t historically come from the realms, so let’s check where they are. Let’s see where they are.”

Manuel also wants to help teach young gamers the history of the game and its connections to Black American history, and to provide a safe space for young Black gamers where they don’t feel isolated.

“What struck me is that when they all come here, that number of black athletes get together in one place, there’s a freedom to play baseball,” Manuel said. “There is a kinship to each other.”

Additionally, Matthews said key to the program’s success is the opportunity to recruit young black players with high-level experience from MLB veterans such as Manuel, Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, Atlanta Braves coach Ron Washington, and LaTroy Hawkins, who are in have played the majors for 21 years.

“Jerry Manuel feels like this is a calling in his life and giving back and leading our coaching staff,” Matthews said. “Our coaching staff cares about him and takes the time to come in and help and develop baseball as a generational sport so the process continues year after year.”

Players will recognize how the DREAM series has played an important role in its success.

“All my success, everything I’ve been through in my life,” Johnson said on the MLB Network after being drafted fourth overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates, “I’m giving my all to the DREAM Series and this MLB pipelines.”

And while Manuel is proud that more black players will be drafted after the DREAM series is completed, he says his primary motivation is to develop young men of character who love baseball, even if they don’t end up having careers in the industry aspire as a player.

“We take small, small steps,” said Manuel. “This is that [Jackie] Robinson way. citizenship, integrity. This will help you in life. Everyone here won’t play at the highest level, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of people in baseball. You might make it to the front office because you know the game. I want to make the game better. My culture is missing from it and I have to do something about it. Whoever comes, we’ll take care of him.” How the DREAM Series is helping reshape MLB

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