By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO

Major League’s Baseball’s commitment to diversity and inclusion of minorities and the next generation of urban fans gained unprecedented momentum during All-Star week in D.C.  The chance to embrace the cultural demographics of the nation’s capital was the perfect stage to begin the process of restoring the passion for baseball by using Generation X to serve as the bridge to millennials and to regain credibility with an audience that it has struggled to reach.

MLB and its Players Association were unified in their attempt to grow the game after settling into an era of labor peace.  Former African American players led the charge of taking the message to the streets through appearances, clinics and by sharing the story of ascending to the game’s highest level then wanting to give back to the next generation.

Five-time All-Star, Torii Hunter said he hopes to inspire the next generation to pursue baseball. (Courtesy Photo)

“The game has been so good to me that I feel it’s my responsibility to give something back to the next generation,” MLB outfielder and five-time all- star Torii Hunter told the AFRO.  “It allowed me to set myself up for life and take care of my family so its important to teach those who come behind me what I’ve learned from the greats who mentored me.”

Hunter, who was known as much for his gregarious personality and the smile he brought to the diamond as he was for the SportsCenter highlights he created as one of the best defensive players of his era, led Team USA to a 10-6 win in the Sirius/XM Futures Game.  Hunter played 10 years with the Minnesota Twins and currently works in their front office as Special Assistant, Baseball Operations. Hunter was one of the first in the new era of Black multi-sport athletes – since the 1990s – to quit playing football realizing that it was best for him to pursue a career in baseball despite having options.

“What we have to do is make sure kids understand the opportunities the game offers them on and off the field,” Hunter said.  “You have can have a longer career and retire with your body in better physical shape than if you play football.”

MLBPA President Tony Clark, a 15-year veteran, could be viewed as the second most powerful man in baseball, behind MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.  With guaranteed contracts and harmony with the owners, the union can help play its role on growing the game in cities like D.C.  The Major League Baseball Players Trust, which is an MLBPA charity group, provided clinics for kids and coaches at St. Albans School in Northwest, D.C. They also donated $150,000 to the United Through Reading organization that helps separated members of the military share storytime with their children at home.

“D.C. is what it is and we know the demographics of this city,” Clark said. “These are important cities and we understand the future of the game is in these cities.  It’s where athletes and future fans are and we will do our part to bring more urban kids back to the game and perhaps make it a career.”

Friday former Nationals coach Bo Porter organized a two-day session focusing on “teaching the game the right way.”  Porter, who was manager for current American MVP Jose’ Altuve with the Houston Astros, spoke to a group of 60 competitive baseball organizers and coaches, on motivation and instruction.

“When you teach the game the right way and motivate them properly kids will stick with the game and love the game forever,” Porter said.  “But you have to break down the barriers like cost for inner city kids. Baseball teaches you a lot of lessons that can lead to success in all walks of life.”