Dmitri Young had a 13-year MLB career with the Cardinals, Reds, Tigers and Nationals, and is now a coach with the 2014 Breakthrough Series. The series is a joint effort by MLB and USA Baseball to help some of the top high school prospects in the nation, many of them African American, who may not otherwise have had an opportunity to play in front of college and pro scouts, to have that chance in one of four regional sites for the first time: Brooklyn, N.Y., Bradenton, Fla., Compton, Calif., and Cincinnati.
"When I was asked to do this, I was all-in from the get-go," Young said. "I think the importance of this is showing that African Americans, wherever they're from, can play. And it's just a matter of them getting exposure and being seen. And this Breakthrough Series is about giving these guys exposure."
About 200 prospects will have taken part across the four locations once this year's series has concluded, having begun on July 19 and running through Monday. At the Cincinnati showcase, two workout sessions were held on Friday, involving infield/outfield/pitching drills and batting practice. On Saturday, there will be two showcase games coached by Young and fellow former MLB All-Stars Jeffrey Hammonds and Denny Neagle.
Two participants for whom the event is particularly special are Cincinnati natives and La Salle High School teammates Phil Anderson, 18, and Nigel Williams, 17.
Anderson, who has played every position on the field for La Salle this season, has also participated in MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program in Cincinnati.
"The RBI program was an awesome experience. I really picked up a lot of things, and the coaches really helped me get better," Anderson said. "I think this Breakthrough Series is a very good thing, because not only did I work hard to get here, it lets me show how hard I worked and for all the scouts to realize and recognize me."
Williams, La Salle's catcher, echoed Anderson's sentiment about how beneficial the Breakthrough Series is for players who are invited.
"I think the Breakthrough Series is amazing because when you're playing baseball games, you might not be able to play in front of 15 or 20 scouts, but here, they're all here and they can see you play live, not just on video," he said. "In these workouts, I just want to give it my all and let the scouts notice me, and hopefully they'll pick up on something they like about me."
Cameron Satterwhite is the assistant director of the P&G Cincinnati MLB Urban Youth Academy.
"I played baseball at Moeller High School here in Cincinnati, and was actually drafted by the Cleveland Indians and played a little bit in college as well," Satterwhite said. "I think the Breakthrough Series is incredible; I wish it was around a little earlier, but I'm glad that it's here. It definitely provides an opportunity for Major League Baseball to find diamonds in the rough."
Some of those potential diamonds in the rough got a firsthand look at a former big leaguer who still knows how to barrel up a baseball. While one of the prospects was hitting in the cage, Young found some batting gloves his size and decided to take some swings of his own.
With a smile on his face from ear to ear as he walked out of the cage after putting on a clinic, he told the youngsters not to make him hit again by consistently ripping the ball themselves.
"Y'all want me to get back in there again?" he asked a few minutes later. The batter in the cage hit a solid line drive on the next pitch.
"That's better!" he said with a smile.