High schoolers play like the pros at the Braves’ Native American All-Star Baseball Showcase

50 high school baseball players of Native American descent represented 23 tribes from 16 states across the U.S. and Canada

Photograph courtesy of the Atlanta Braves

On a Sunday at Truist Park, Jordan Davis hit a line drive into left field on the second pitch of the game for a single. During the third pitch, he turned on his heels to steal second base. His helmet flew off behind him like he tossed it out of a car window. But the throw from the catcher beat Davis, and the shortstop tagged him out. Davis popped up to grab the helmet behind him and jogged back to the dugout. He should be disappointed to get caught stealing, but today, he flashed a smile.

Davis is a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and graduating senior from Philadelphia, Mississippi. From June 7 to 9, he participated in the third-annual Native American All-Star Baseball Showcase hosted by the Atlanta Braves at Truist. He joined 49 other high school baseball players of Native American descent, representing 23 tribes from 16 states across the U.S. and Canada. The players went through pro-style workouts with former Braves players as their coaches and talked to MLB and college scouts. On Sunday, they played a showcase game against one another, with many family members of the players attending and cheering for both teams. Scouts were also in the stands. “I’m grateful to be here, so my goal is to go all out,” Davis said. “I needed two bombs at a minimum.”

The Braves started the Native American All Star Showcase in 2021 following extensive consultation with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and the Braves Native American Group, a collection of tribal leaders around the country who guide the team on Native issues. The showcase also followed the example of the 44 Classic, an invitational of 44 Black high school baseball players at Truist Park with similar programming.

Former Braves outfielder Marquis Grissom is a coach during both the 44 Classic and Native American All Star Showcase. He worked with the players over the weekend during their workouts. “I’m a baseball coach for them, but I’ve learned so much from the players and see that their culture needs to be recognized,” Grissom said. “I started to see parallels with my own experience as a Black man, what I’ve been through to be productive in life, and their struggle for freedom, for land, and for recognition.”

The first Native American All-Star Baseball Showcase in 2021 also occurred at the same time as heavy controversy surrounding American professional teams and Native American imagery. Following racial unrest in 2020, conversations around the topic caused several teams to remove official mascots or change team names entirely, like the NFL’s Washington Commanders (from Redskins in 2020) and MLB’s Cleveland Guardians (from Indians in 2021).

The Braves have received criticism for its name (“braves” is a Euro-American stereotype for Native warriors) and the use of the tomahawk chop, which originated at Florida State University and is noted for mocking Native war chants. In 2019, St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher and Cherokee Nation member Ryan Helsley said that he found the name and chop insulting, with Native tribes vocalizing support of his comments. This prompted the Braves to not use the chop song or graphic in the rest of a playoff series with St. Louis. The name and chop once again received attention with the Braves on the national stage of the 2021 World Series. The opinion of Native leaders on the Braves name is reported as split, with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians supporting the name and the Muscogee nation condemning it.

Caden Royer is a rising senior from Arizona and member of the Muscogee Nation. (Georgia is part of the expansive Native land of the Muscogee Nation.) He attended the 2024 showcase with hopes of getting offers this summer to play baseball in college. “At least for me, my family is proud that I can come here to Georgia and represent the community,” Royer said. “I’ve seen the Braves as a role model, in a way, for the opportunity to do that.”

Davis added: “Being Native American, you don’t usually get a chance because of who you are,” he said. “The showcase gives us an opportunity for baseball, but I also can be in a dugout full of kids like me. There’s different cultures, languages, but we share an identity and baseball.”

In 2023, Davis also attended the showcase. During the Saturday workout, coaches Jerome Walton and Michael Moseley showed him how to use his back leg more in his swing to hit the ball harder. The change paid immediate dividends; during the showcase game, Davis, a center fielder, smashed the ball for two hits. College scouts from Division III schools in Georgia and Oklahoma approached him after the game to talk with him about his future. This year, he committed to play baseball at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, an elite junior college program in the Southeast.

Hayden Barnett is a graduating senior from Oklahoma representing the Cherokee Nation. His parents, Sara and JJ, have joined him in the three times he’s attended the event. Sara and JJ have made close family friends with a family from Mississippi through the showcase, and Barnett keeps in close touch with a former teammate from Wisconsin. “We’re really appreciative that Hayden and all of these kids can finally play on the platform they deserve,” Sara said. “We have three high schools in the area and one local newspaper,” JJ adds. “His Indian school [Sequoyah High School] gets no coverage on baseball or anything, and this is just our small town newspaper.”

On Sunday, Barnett was called on to pitch in the bottom of the fifth inning, his name announced over the stadium speakers. He gave up a double to start the inning, but the runner on base was caught stealing. With the bases once again clear, he settled in. He induced a weak chopper to the second baseman for the second out. A slider away struck out the last batter. In the top of sixth, Davis came up to bat again and smoked a double into the gap between center and right field, for his second hit of the game.

The post High schoolers play like the pros at the Braves’ Native American All-Star Baseball Showcase appeared first on Atlanta Magazine.

50 high school baseball players of Native American descent, representing 23 tribes from 16 states across the U.S. and Canada, participated in the third-annual Native American All-Star Baseball Showcase at Truist Park. The players went through pro-style workouts with former Braves players as their coaches and talked to MLB and college scouts. On Sunday, they played a showcase game against one another, with many family members of the players attending and cheering for both teams.
The post High schoolers play like the pros at the Braves’ Native American All-Star Baseball Showcase appeared first on Atlanta Magazine. Read MoreAtlanta Magazine

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