As young African American males think about playing professional sports, primarily football and basketball, there is a sport out there that is just as lucrative as those, but not very many Black males play — it’s baseball.
Adrian Turner, a transplant to Minnesota by way of Grambling State University, is striving to reach his dream of playing Major League Baseball (MLB). Turner was born in Tuscon, Arizona, and due to his father’s job he ended up in Kenosha, Wisconsin. At St. Joseph High School, a private school in Kenosha, he was a three-sport athlete. He played football, basketball and baseball.
When asked what made him decide to make baseball his main sport of choice, “The best scholarship offers for me were from baseball,” recalls Adrian. “I had a few Division II scholarship offers for basketball, but I felt the best opportunity for me was with baseball.”
So Adrian chose to go to Grambling State University, a Historically Black College/University (HBCU). “Beside a scholarship, and me liking the coaching staff there, I felt it would be a good change of scenery for me — not much for African Americans to do in Kenosha,” he points out.
However, going from Kenosha, Wisconsin (almost a population of 100,000), to the small town of Grambling, Louisiana (almost a population of 5,000) was a big change for the new freshman. When asked about the adjustments from high school to college, from the city to academics and baseball, he had to make, Adrian calmly noted, “It wasn’t that big of an adjustment for me. We used to live in Alabama when I was growing up. I am a laid-back type of person, so I pretty much hung out on campus and with the baseball team.
“College academics are not as tough as I thought they would be. It’s pretty much about time management,” he continues. When asked why he didn’t join a fraternity, often a main part of college life at a HBCU, he responds, “The baseball team was my fraternity.”
Every year, MLB hosts a three-day tournament, usually at a school on the West Coast, that includes Historically Black Colleges and Universities baseball teams, which gives them national exposure. Grambling got their first chance to play in that tournament in 2011, which was held at University of California-Irvine’s Cicerone Field at Anteater Ballpark.
“It was fun to play in this tournament, especially in front of most of my family,“ recalls Adrian. “Most of my family lives in Arizona, and they hadn’t had the chance to see me play. So coming to California was easier for them.”
In his team’s debut performance, they posted a two-run win over Bethune-Cookman College, then played Southern University in a game that was televised on the MLB Network. “It was great to have a chance to play on television,” says Adrian.
Later that season Grambling won the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC) championship, beating Alcorn State. This was the school’s first title since 1985; Adrian was named SWAC Tournament MVP, and his team earned a NCAA bid to the College World Series.
As he reminisces about the tournament with a smile, he says, “Being there [the NCAA tournament] was a great overall experience. The environment was great! Getting to play against tougher teams is always good.” That experience also gave him the bug to want to win another SWAC tournament the following spring.
“Of course I wanted to win another SWAC championship — who doesn’t?” Adrian enthuses. However, that did not happen in his senior season.
During his years at Grambling Adrian was a utility player, which meant he played different positions — in his case, it was outfielder, first baseman and pitcher. With all that versatility, playing baseball after college would seem likely.
With two of his former teammates, Chris Wolfe and Eldred Barnett, being drafted by MLB clubs, “That’s all I thought about, but it is difficult to play in the minors,” admits Adrian. “There are about 40 players on a team.”
Adrian eventually was drafted by a minor league team, the Yuma (Ariz.) Scorpions, but that team folded before it got started. “I feel like I can make a team. I watch minor league teams and say to myself…I am better than them. I plan on staying with it…keep working out and keep the faith.”
In the end, Adrian has a strong attitude of perseverance and good work ethic. He plays fall baseball and plans to keep working out. With his attitude, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in an MLB jersey in the near future….maybe a Twins jersey.
Sheri Crockett welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.