One team -- longtime power Southern University from Baton Rouge, La. -- will be playing in its sixth straight Urban Invitational, but the other three schools (Alabama State University, Prairie View A&M University and Texas Southern University) will be back for just the second time.
The showcase, part of MLB's ongoing efforts to highlight the passion for baseball within the inner-city communities of America, will take place in Houston for the second straight season. It will begin on Friday, Feb. 22, and the round-robin tournament will conclude on Sunday the 24th.
All of this year's games are scheduled for the Astros’ Minute Maid Park, but the Urban Youth Academy at Sylvester Turner Park will play host to a youth baseball clinic. Perhaps the best part for the teams involved? Saturday's games will air live on MLB Network and MLB.com.
Frank Robinson, one of the game's all-time great players and MLB's executive vice president of baseball development, said Thursday that the event is noteworthy for a number of reasons.
"Major League Baseball would like to congratulate the four teams and all the student-athletes who will be participating in this year’s Urban Invitational," said Robinson in a press release. "This annual event is an important and special opportunity for the sport to showcase the talent and skill level demonstrated by HBCU programs deserving of national attention. We are proud to work alongside the Astros organization to not only provide a wonderful experience for those playing the games on the field, but also offer opportunities away from the diamond for the Houston community."
The Urban Invitational will also play host to a career and college fair at Minute Maid Park on the opening day of the tourney. Participating colleges and universities will ring the concourse and provide information about their school's tuition, financial aid and scholarship opportunities.
Players from each of the four schools will help give back to the local community by participating in a youth baseball clinic with kids from neighboring RBI programs. RBI -- which stands for Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities -- has helped involve inner-city youth in baseball around the country.
This is the first year that the tourney has been played exclusively by historically black colleges and universities, and just the second time the games have been played at a big league venue. Daryl Wade, manager of the Houston UYA, plans to roll out the red carpet for the Urban Invitational.
"The Houston Astros are very excited that Major League Baseball has chosen to return the Urban Invitational to Minute Maid Park this year," said Wade. "Last year's event was a great success for the Astros, Major League Baseball and the city of Houston. We all look forward to continuing this relationship with the ultimate goal of continuing to provide local youth, students and young professionals instruction, support and opportunities for their future successes."
The Urban Youth Academy mission has taken a quantum leap in the last few months, as MLB opened a new facility in New Orleans and announced plans for another academy in Cincinnati. There are four existing academies now -- in Houston, New Orleans, Puerto Rico and Compton, Calif. -- and in addition to the one in Cincinnati, MLB is building new facilities in Philadelphia and Hialeah, Fla.
The Compton academy opened in 2006, and since its inception, more than 300 student-athletes have gone on to play collegiate baseball or softball. More than 200 players with academy ties have been drafted, including Carlos Correa, the top overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
Three players -- Trayvon Robinson, Anthony Gose and Efren Navarro -- have gone on to the big leagues after playing at an Urban Youth Academy, fulfilling the ultimate dream.
Southern University, the former college home of star second baseman Rickie Weeks, will play in the first game of the Urban Invitational against local favorite Texas Southern University. Later on Friday, Prairie View A&M will play against Alabama State University in the nightcap.
Both of Saturday's games -- Alabama State vs. Southern at 4 p.m. CT and Texas Southern against Prairie View at 7:30 p.m. CT -- will air live on the MLB Network and on MLB.com. And between games, fans at Minute Maid Park will be treated to a live Battle of the Bands.
Sunday's finale will feature Alabama State vs. Texas Southern at noon and Southern against Prairie View at 3:30 p.m. Tickets to all games and events at Minute Maid Park will be available to the general public for $10.00, and parking will also be available at the venue.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.