Image credit: Druw Jones with event organizers J.P Crawford (left) and Dominic Smith (right). (Photo by Bill Mitchell).
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.— When Dominic Smith was drafted by the Mets in the first round in 2013, he had two goals in mind.
The first, of course, was to reach the major leagues. The second was to give back to his community as soon as he could.
Smith is a product of Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., a city in south Los Angeles where more than one in seven residents lives below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2017, the same year he made his major league debut, Smith and two of his friends founded Baseball Generations, an organization dedicated to providing instruction, mentorship and playing opportunities for inner-city youth, including free and subsidized youth programs and travel teams.
After three years of growth, Baseball Generations hosted its first All-Star Game on Saturday at San Manuel Stadium, home of the minor league Inland Empire 66ers, bringing together 40 of the top high school players in the country. Smith and Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford served as managers, while Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, Marlins infielder Jazz Chisholm and Red Sox minor league outfielder Marcus Wilson were among those who served as coaches.
“I started it because there was nothing like this when I was coming up,” Smith said. “Guys get drafted from L.A. and they don’t come back and give their time and just help events or show face and let the community know they’re from there and they’re trying to help.
“That’s something I wanted to change. I told them since I made my debut, this is something that needs to be changed. This is something I really want to do, and we’ve been pushing for years to do it.”
The game featured many of the top high school players in the 2022 and 2023 classes. Most were from Southern California, but Smith and Baseball Generations brought in players from across the nation for the event. Shortstop Termarr Johnson (Mays High, Atlanta); outfielder Druw Jones (Wesleyan High, Norcross, Ga.), the son of Andruw Jones; catcher Malcolm Moore (McClatchey High, Sacramento) and shortstop Mikey Romero (Vista Murrieta High, Murrieta, Calif.) were the top players who participated. Other notable players included outfielder Justin Crawford (Bishop Gorman High, Las Vegas), the son of Carl Crawford; and first baseman Carsten Sabathia (Bergen Catholic High, Oradell, N.J), the son of C.C. Sabathia.
“Obviously with us being from South Central (L.A.) and from Southern California, we picked a lot of SoCal kids,” Smith said. “We also wanted to get a lot of the best kids from across the country because … we want to affect different areas and communities and different ages. We want to help the inner city kids with free camps and Toys for Tots drives with us giving back as well, but also touch on kids who want to make this their profession and help those kids get to (the majors) and be better than us. That’s why we wanted to hold this event and have some of those top kids in the country.”
Team Smith defeated Team Crawford, 10-5, in the game. Sabathia, with his dad in attendance, won Most Valuable Player after going 3-for-3 with four RBIs. Righthander Duke Ekstrom (Point Loma High, San Diego) was named the top pitcher after pitching two scoreless innings with a pair of strikeouts.
Jones won the pregame home run derby.
For Smith, Crawford and the rest of the major leaguers who took part, the hope is the game was just another step in Baseball Generations’ continued growth.
“It means the world to me,” Crawford said. “When we were this age Aaron Hicks, Anthony Gose, those type of guys, they were the guys that were in our shoes right now. We looked up to them. They answered every question we had for them and they looked out for us like we’re going to look out for these kids. We just want to show these kids they can make it too and that we’re here for them.”
Correspondent Bill Mitchell contributed to this story.