The Crescent City will again take center stage in Major League Baseball's annual effort to highlight baseball in the inner city. The Urban Invitational is headed back to New Orleans for the third straight season, and it will feature a few youth events, as well as six colleges playing at two sites.
The University of New Orleans and the Urban Youth Academy in Pontchartrain Park will serve as the hosts for this year's tourney, which will take place this weekend. Southern University returns for the ninth straight season, and rival Grambling State will be featured for the fifth time. The tourney will feature four schools from the historically black college and university ranks.
"An event like this creates synergy for the game, historically black colleges and the long-term health of the game," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs. "We want to create a positive experience for those playing and attending."
The tournament, which was created both to promote and enrich baseball in urban and underserved areas, will also hold a few events designed to appeal to a younger audience. The Urban Youth Academy will host a private youth clinic, a Play Ball event and a MLB Pitch Hit & Run competition on the 20th.
Southern and Grambling State will be joined by fellow HCBUs Alcorn State University and Prairie View A&M, and the six-team field will be completed by the University of New Orleans and Louisiana Tech University. The six teams will play a round-robin set of nine games split over the three days.
"For us, we have a lot of historically black colleges near by. It is embedded in the community," said Eddie Davis, director of the New Orleans MLB Urban Youth Academy. "The city has hosted classics for football, but this is a chance to showcase baseball."
Two Urban Invitational games will be broadcast live on MLB Network and MLB.com, and the tourney will include a special tribute to former MLB player and broadcaster Darryl Hamilton.
Hamilton, a Baton Rouge, La., native, called last year's tourney before his life was tragically cut short months later. This year, MLB officials will name a most valuable player for each of the nine games in the tournament, and that player will be dubbed the Darryl Hamilton Player of the Game.
"It is a chance to showcase the academy and a national platform for the universities," Reagins said. "As an organization, it is a great chance for us to shine."
Former big leaguers Jerry Manuel and Lee Smith are expected to take part in Saturday's youth events at the Urban Youth Academy, and the players can take note of the tourney's significance. More than 25 players who have played in the Urban Invitational have gone on to be selected at various points in the MLB Draft, and last year's Draft featured three players who had played in the tournament.
This year's tournament, like many in the past, will be emblematic of MLB's many varied efforts in the inner city. Fourteen of the players in this year's tournament are products of either the Urban Youth Academy, the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program or the league's multilocation Breakthrough Series.
"Right now in the south, it is football country. With the academy, we can polish kids. We take kids as young as 5 years old," Davis said. "When they get out they are going to be polished. They have baseball as a legitimate opportunity."
Southern University has four players who attended the Urban Youth Academies in New Orleans and Compton, Calif., and another seven who played in various RBI programs around the country. Prairie View, meanwhile, has two players who rounded out their games at the Urban Youth Academy in Houston.
"Many athletes are not being taught the right way to play the game," said Blake Dean, head coach at the University of New Orleans. "At the Urban Youth Academy, that's what they are doing. Because of that, I'm going to be able walk across the street and sign those guys."
The academies in Compton and Houston have hosted prior editions of the Urban Invitational, and new facilities have opened in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Future state-of-the-art academies are currently being developed in baseball hotbeds Dallas, Kansas City and San Francisco.
2016 Urban Invitational schedule
2 p.m. CT: Louisiana Tech University vs. Prairie View A&M at New Orleans MLBUYA
5 p.m. CT: Grambling State University vs. Southern University at New Orleans MLBUYA
6 p.m. CT: Alcorn State University vs. University of New Orleans at University of New Orleans (UNO)
9 a.m. CT: Private Youth Baseball Clinic for UYA and RBI participants at New Orleans MLBUYA
11 a.m. CT: Prairie View A&M vs. Alcorn State University at UNO
12:30 p.m. CT: PLAY BALL Event at New Orleans MLBUYA
2 p.m. CT: Louisiana Tech University vs. Southern University at New Orleans MLBUYA (Will air live on MLB Network and MLB.com)
3 p.m. CT: Scotts MLB Pitch Hit & Run local contest at New Orleans MLBUYA
6 p.m. CT: Grambling University vs. University of New Orleans at New Orleans MLBUYA (Will air live on MLB Network and MLB.com)
12 p.m. CT: Prairie View A&M vs. Grambling State University at New Orleans MLBUYA
1 p.m. CT: Louisiana Tech University vs. University of New Orleans at UNO
3 p.m. CT: Southern University vs. Alcorn State University at New Orleans MLBUYA
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.