TAMPA, Fla. — Jalen Niles recently had the chance of a lifetime and an opportunity for the first of its kind.
The Jesuit High School grad had a successful first season at Florida A&M University that ended in the NCAA regionals, but he would soon find out there was still more baseball to be played.
“When I found out, I was actually in an exit meeting with my head coach. We had just finished the Gainesville regional and he had a few of us in there in the room at the same time,” Niles said. “He congratulated all of us at the same time and we all stood up and hugged each other because it’s such a big deal. We put in so much work throughout the year. So, to be recognized for it in the first one is an amazing feeling.”
Niles was selected to play in the inaugural Swingman Classic.
The best athletes from historically Black colleges and universities will compete during the MLB All-Star Week in Seattle.
The game was hosted by Ken Griffey Jr.
“Ken Griffey Jr. played in the big leagues, (he’s a) Hall of Famer. He’s putting on this event for HBCU baseball players, there’s 50 of us, and we get to go during the MLB All-Star break,” said Niles. “There’s a workout and then we get to play a seven inning game against each other, and then there will be scouts and everything there.”
It’s a game that’s both a symbol and a spotlight.
“HBCU, it’s kind of hard to get recruited because you don’t have the resources, and the people looking at you like all the Power 5 schools do, so we just want to same opportunity as everybody else, so we’re grateful that Ken Griffey Jr. put on this opportunity for us so that we can get recruited maybe get the opportunity to play at the next level,” Niles said.
Niles is one of 50 HBCU baseball players who are competing on the national stage.
He hopes this inaugural event is the first of many more to come.
“I just hope it inspires guys to realize they have a chance to take their talents to the next level, even if it’s not the big Power 5 schools, they can go to an HBCU or a smaller school and still get the same opportunities as everybody else if they perform like everybody else, he said.