Greg Goodwin Had A Point To Prove

MVP Tournament improves visibility for young black players

The Rockies made Redan High standout Chris Nelson the ninth overall pick in the 2004 draft. He played in the MVP Tournament the year before in its inaugural year. (Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Greg Goodwin was tired of watching the number of African-Americans in the big leagues dwindle annually. He was fed up with hearing people talk about the declining interest African-Americans had in the national pastime.

Instead of moaning and groaning, though, Goodwin, the long-time baseball coach at Redan High, outside Atlanta, decided to do something about it.

“We started hearing about how black kids were not playing baseball, and we knew that wasn't true," Goodwin said. “A few of us decided, 'Let's put a tournament together.' We thought we would do it a couple of years and be through with it."

So much for that idea.

The 15th annual MVP Tournament took place in mid-July on the campus of Georgia State in Atlanta. Tournament organizers hold out hope for the future, encouraged by interest from college coaches and professional scouts from the Southeast.

“That's MVP—Mentoring Viable Prospects," Goodwin said. “It kept growing and growing. We had so much support. It is truly a grassroots effort."

And that grassroots effort has grown to include a group of African-American scouts for major league organizations—Danny Montgomery of the Rockies, Steve Williams of the Pirates, Chip Lawrence of the Padres and Clarence Jones of the Rangers.

“The credit goes to that group in Atlanta," Montgomery said. “They wanted to help the kids, and we offered our assistance. We have a symposium on Saturday night for the kids and their parents. They come from backgrounds where many of them really don't know much about how the scholarship programs work, and we have speakers who explain that.''

Roger Cador, who retired this year after 33 years as Southern head coach, was this year's featured speaker.
Some have suggested that the tournament be staged in different places each year, possibly having multiple tournaments and creating a revenue stream. But that detracts from the entire purpose behind the idea of MVP.

This is a no-frills event. All attention is paid to young athletes gain exposure.

“We've had more than 300 kids get scholarships," Goodwin said. “These are kids who probably wouldn't have had that chance otherwise. We reach out to get those who don't have resources to play travel ball. They are good ballplayers. They just need a chance."

And Goodwin does know something about talent. He is retired now, after a career at Redan, where he started out as a teacher, ended up as the principal and in between was the baseball coach. He was around for the transition of the school from 100 percent white students to its current all-black enrollment.

He took pleasure when as the principal in 2013, Redan became one of the few high schools to have three of its players who turned pro as preps in the big leagues at the same time: Chris Nelson of the Rockies, Domonic Brown of the Phillies and Brandon Phillips of the Reds.

All that pride, however, did not offset frustration from seeing MLB's percentage of African-American players decline to 7.7 percent this year.

“The Little League parks were filled with black kids playing baseball, but when they got to middle school they gravitated to football and basketball," Goodwin said.

The MVP program is changing that mindset.

It has grown from an Atlanta-centric program to one that this year had eight teams from seven parts of the country. Seven years ago, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf stepped up to support a team from Chicago. Manny Upton, father of Melvin and Justin, has become a regular with a team from Virginia, and Lawrence has organized a Florida team.

The payment for Goodwin and Co., is not financial.

“For us the rewards are letters we get from kids thanking us for the opportunity to go to college," Goodwin said. “They get a chance through baseball to improve their life."

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