Fenway hosts Open House featuring black colleges

Fenway hosts Open House featuring black colleges

BOSTON -- As Major League Baseball aims to improve its relationship with African-American communities across the country, the Red Sox are among teams taking steps to see those goals fulfilled in tangible ways.

This was no more apparent than on Saturday, when the Red Sox hosted a game between Florida A&M and North Carolina Central -- the first showcase featuring two historically black colleges at Fenway Park. In doing so, one man's vision of making history in Boston has come to fruition.

"Like many great events or initiatives, it would be nice to say that it was all our idea," said Red Sox senior vice president David Friedman, "but that wouldn't be the truth."

The showcase, which concluded a weekend's worth of special events involving the two schools as well as the Boston community, began as the brainchild of longtime San Diego businessman Frank Jordan, whose ties to president/CEO Larry Lucchino and executive vice president Charles Steinberg during their Padres days have kept him involved with the Red Sox.

"I am a product of the south," said Jordan, a veteran of the civil rights movement and Augusta, Ga., native. "As a kid, my dad played in a B division of the Negro Leagues. As a child, I grew up traveling on the raggedy buses.

"I got a chance as a kid to experience the love of baseball. That even through the civil rights movement, people weren't being treated correctly, there still was a great spirit through the game of baseball that brought people together on Sunday evenings in small towns around the south to see that game."

With assistance from the Red Sox, Jordan founded the Boston Area Church League in 2002, an at-risk youth outreach program built around children playing organized baseball alongside pastors, police officers and members of the district attorney's office. Since then, he began setting his sights on bringing a higher level of competition to Boston's African-American community.

And by pairing the showcase with Saturday's Open House event, a day of free-to-the-public access at Fenway Park, complete with a college fair involving 40 historically black colleges, it afforded the schools exposure they never would have gotten and gave fans opportunities they otherwise may not have received.

Fenway Open House

"It shows an example of role models, students," Friedman said. "The players from the two teams are from all different backgrounds ... the game itself will be a nice way to see that from whatever background you are, baseball can be a game that's fun, that's exciting, that's entertaining, that helps you get an education."

In order to facilitate the long trip, the Red Sox helped cover travel expenses for both schools.

"To be a part of something like that, that would make an impact on area youth, the city of Boston and be something very positive was great for us," Florida A&M athletic director D'Wayne Robinson said.

The Red Sox were notably the last organization in baseball to integrate, a part of the club's past ownership has openly acknowledged. But Saturday's events -- not just the game, but also the community outreach efforts -- epitomize something greater than baseball for Boston's African-Americans and, by extension, people of all backgrounds.

"It's the spirit of the city," Jordan said. "It is a community working together to make this happen. That's the power of baseball. Both of these teams represent our society. Both of these teams have players other than black."

Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.