DREAM Series ‘shows you that the game is in good hands’

Detroit Tigers

TEMPE, Ariz. — In seeing the temperatures in Arizona hover around freezing at 9 a.m., it would have been more than fair for Nationals starting pitcher Josiah Gray and free-agent infielder Cole Tucker to seek shelter from the elements, nestling with a coffee before getting an offseason day started.

But the duo braved the elements and descended upon Tempe Diablo Stadium on Friday morning to watch the first day of on-field activities for the 2024 DREAM Series, where 80 predominantly Black and Latino high school players are participating in an immersive development experience, focused on providing instruction for pitchers and catchers, as well as receiving off-the-field mentorship.

And armed with batting gloves and extra hoodies for warmth, there was no place either would rather be.

“It’s awesome, it’s just so cool,” Tucker said. “Just to see how far we’re coming as a sport, this event didn’t exist 10 years ago when I was in high school. … A testament to that is the guys showing up to support. Harold [Reynolds] is here, CY [Chris Young], Josiah’s here, Hunter Greene is here. You know, guys are thirsty out here to give back, it’s a great event.”

Tucker and Gray are just a couple of the current and former Major Leaguers that have trekked out to Tempe to participate in and observe the event. Other attendees that were present on Friday to watch bullpens and other instructional drills included former journeyman Edwin Jackson and free-agent righty Justin Dunn, who last pitched with the Reds in 2022.

Gray has his own experience with MLB Develops programming — he attended the Breakthrough Series in 2014 — and made the trip from the East Coast, motivated by an urge to see how the infrastructure for these types of events has progressed.

“When I was in high school, I always dreamed of these events,” Gray said. “But it wasn’t at the level that it’s at today. So, just to see them fly out these young Black kids that are really good at baseball — there’s a lot of good talent out here — it’s amazing to see. I think it shows you that the game is in good hands.”

The DREAM Series, which began in 2017, is one of the jewel programs that MLB has employed that’s focused on improving diversity within the sport. Amongst the major sports in America, MLB had the highest percentage of players from diverse backgrounds on Opening Day rosters this past season, with 40.34% of rosters filled with Black, Latino/Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian and Native American players.

However, while overall diversity increases at the Major League level, Black participation continues to drop. In 2023, Black players only made up 6.3% of the spots on MLB rosters — the latest example of a downturn that’s persisted since 1995, when Black players accounted for 19% of the league. The DREAM Series, with its focus on getting elite Black and Latino high school prospects instruction and exposure to help them reach the next level, is just one part of the attempt to build a more diverse talent base from the ground up with hopes that it could lead to an increased percentage of Black participation at the highest level.

Reds starting pitcher and DREAM Series Alumnus (2017) Greene recognizes just how important these efforts are for the future of baseball. He was out there in the cold desert air on Friday morning, tossing the ball around with participant Kevari Thunderbird, raring to be a part of the activities.

“It’s extremely important, man,” Greene said. “It’s all about the opportunity to be around other African-American players, Latin players, Asian players, everybody. It’s really my favorite part about playing in the big leagues. … But also to see players like myself, like Josiah Gray — there’s only like six Black starting pitchers, right? So for us to be at the same spot at the same time, it’s really cool and special. I don’t take that lightly.”

For these Black players that have accomplished the dream of reaching the Majors, they swell with pride when they look across the field to see the next wave grinding so early in their own journey. Dunn and Tucker beam as they highlight the joy and passion the players possess as they move through drills, fueled by a desire to chase their aspirations. Gray marvels at their maturity and willingness to soak up knowledge, hoping to learn more about their development goals over the next couple of days.

Each big leaguer present this weekend relishes the chance to positively impact every DREAM Series participant, any way that they can. Partly because they understand how vital support and guidance can be during the recruiting process, but also because they’re hopeful about these players’ chances to become a part of the next generation of Black and Latino ballplayers.

“The influence that Major Leaguers have on kids, you don’t even realize,” Tucker said. “But being that kid who looked up to all those players, it makes all the difference. You want to look on the TV and see people that look like you, or play like you, or act like you.”

“I’m really looking forward to just seeing more Black players in the big leagues,” Gray said. “I want to see the next class of tomorrow. … I think there’s that next generation, that’s probably here today.”

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