Potential No. 1 MLB pick Hunter Greene hopes to inspire young African-American players

Potential No. 1 MLB pick Hunter Greene hopes to inspire young African-American players

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Potential No. 1 MLB pick Hunter Greene hopes to inspire young African-American players

Hunter Greene, during the USA Baseball sponsored Dream Series in Tempe in January (Photo: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)

Hunter Greene has not even been drafted yet, but the potential No. 1 overall pick in June is already trying to inspire young people about what can be done.

Greene, an American Family Insurance ALL-USA selection from Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, Calif.),  first attended Major League Baseball’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton when he was 7 and is considered a potential star role model in baseball’s efforts to reverse the scarcity of African-American players, especially pitchers.

In the 2016 draft, 12 of the 77 players (15.5 percent) selected on the first day are African-American. But only 14 of the 449 pitchers on big-league opening day rosters or the disabled list at the start of the 2016 season were African-American.

Greene, who could be drafted as a pitcher or an infielder, will speak and throw out the ceremonial first pitch Saturday for the Ladera Little League in central Los Angeles. He is expected to address the roughly 250 players and their parents as well as some of the teens whom he has played with on travel ball teams.

The Ladera Little League is primarily made up of African-American players and has been a staple in the community for more than 50 years.

“This is something for the kids to be able to see that this is real — you can go from being a young black kid and become the potential No. 1 draft pick,” league treasurer Tina Backstrom told USA TODAY Sports. “We can show it’s real because here’s someone in the LA area who’s doing just that.

“Some of the parents come in for Little League and they don’t really understand this is just the beginning. Your kid could do something special. Hunter coming in to talk will really help them to see what they can do with baseball along with the importance of keeping your grades up and doing the right things.”

Greene, a UCLA commit should he not turn pro out of high school, hit .419 with 20 runs, 20 RBI and five homers last season. He had a 1.63 ERA and 5-3 record in 55.2 innings and is off to a good start already this season.

Greene throws 98 mph with a solid slider and changeup and could become the first right-handed high school pitcher selected with the No. 1 overall pick.

While he did not play in the Ladera league, Greene has played with those in the league through the years and his travel team coach connected league officials with his father to arrange for him to participate.

“Not only does it help the little kids, it helps the kids that played with him on the travel ball team,” Backstrom said. “Those kids can see that he was on the team with me and say, ‘I can actually do this.’ They can see that a peer has gone this far and to see it takes hard work and dedication. No one will give you anything. You have study your school work and study baseball. This can help the older kids just as much as the younger kids. …

“Hunter is coming down to really talk to the kids and to let them know that it can be done and you can do big things. You can make history.”

The Ladera Little League has produced pro baseball players, including Royce Clayton, Royal Clayton, Tondre Neal, Dominique Smith, Rob Vaughn, Darryl Gilliam, Doyle Balthazar, Lamont Manor, Victor Hithe, Kenneth Peoples and Keith Davis, the league said.

But like most youth sports organizations, the league needs money to keep going. Saturday’s opening day also will include an apparel and equipment drive where families are encouraged to donate any gently used baseball/softball equipment and clothes so the league can provide for other families.

The league also is hoping to raise $20,000 through RallyMe.com.

“People see Ladera Heights and think it’s a (well-off area), but that’s our field location. Little League boundaries go all over,” Backstrom said. “We extend into-low income housing. We have a gamut of kids that in the league — kids who get scholarships and kids whose parents will give scholarships. Some kids just can’t afford to play baseball. The majority are in a situation where they need some kinds of help financially. A lot of these kids are in the foster system.

“We’re doing this fundraiser through RallyMe to help get some funds for a new scoreboard and to help get the fields in better condition so kids won’t get hurt.”

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