Once-in-lifetime chance for Invitational players

Once-in-lifetime chance for Invitational players

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- For DeAndre Shelton, the Elite Development Invitational has been a bit of a revelation.

Shelton, a 15-year-old middle infielder, said he is the only African-American player on his high school baseball team at West Orange High School (Winter Garden, Fla.). For that reason, the July 18-29 EDI camp, with roughly 150 African-American players from the ages of 13 to 16, was a unique experience for Shelton.

"I feel like we have a great chance," Shelton said when asked if his generation can reverse the trend of the dwindling number of African-American players in the Major Leagues. "We have a lot of talented athletes out here.

"It's a great challenge to know that we can make an impact on other kids' lives. I just feel comfortable knowing everyone out here is just like me."

Basiel Williams, who will be a sophomore this fall at Hammond High School (Hammond, La.), is another player who expressed his appreciation to the organizers of the camp.

He said he was nominated for the camp by his coach, Eddie Davis, of the Urban Youth Academy in New Orleans.

"I was surprised," said Williams, 15, when asked for his reaction. "But I was happy and filled with joy."

Davis, who brought a total of 22 of his players to Vero Beach, said they have all had an eye-opening experience.

"This will change their lives," Davis said. "They are not used to training all day. They are used to training for an hour and a half, and then they go home and play video games. But they are kids -- they are adapting well."

Davis said his players' "jaws dropped when they saw the facilities. They were in awe."

Shelton and Williams said they realize that this is a great opportunity -- the invited players have all their trip expenses covered by the event's sponsors, Major League Baseball, USA Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association.

In addition, numerous former Major League players have been brought to the camp to serve as instructors, and Williams said he has already learned some tips that will help him in the upcoming season.

"I was taught to come through the baseball," Williams said, referring to the act of charging in on grounders. "The quicker you get to the ball, the more time you have to throw the runner out."

Such fundamental knowledge can only help these young players succeed.

"There are a lot of players who have talent, but they have been overlooked because they don't play for high-profile high schools or haven't been invited to the top showcase events," said Tony Reagins, who is MLB's senior vice president of youth programs.

"We want to give them instruction and jumpstart their careers. Maybe they can get a chance they may not have had otherwise."

Reagins said one of MLB's other efforts at reviving baseball in the inner cities -- known as the RBI program -- has already produced major success stories.

For example, Reagins said, former UC-Santa Barbara pitcher Dillon Tate came through RBI, as well as the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif.

Last month, Tate was the fourth pick in the Draft, signing a $4.2 million bonus contract with the Texas Rangers.

Reagins and many others in Major League Baseball would love to find the next Dillon Tate at the current EDI camp in Vero Beach.

But even if that is not possible, Reagins said the other highly important goal of the camp is to help these kids succeed in life by giving them hope, instruction and guidance.

"We have kids at this camp who come from gang-infested neighborhoods," Reagins said. "We have kids who are homeless and live house to house. There are kids here who come from the toughest environments in the country.

"This is an opportunity for them that can be life-building and life-changing."

Walter Villa is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.