‘Push’ – FAMU players catch inspiration from former MLB pro Andre Dawson

Former MLB Outfielder Andre Dawson PHOTO BY JOSHUA KODIS

JACKIE ROBINSON TRAINING COMPLEX — There he was in the press box, eyeing carefully the athletes on the ballpark below as they played the game that changed his life as a young man on the diamond field.

The attention from Andre Dawson, the former Montreal Expos player, did not go unnoticed. 

Jordan Brown, left-fielder for FAMU’s Rattlers Baseball Team, poses during the Andre Dawson Classic held from Feb. 23 to Feb. 25, 2024 in Vero Beach. PHOTO BY JOSHUA KODIS

For two Florida A&M University baseball players, the moment was lit with optimism as they competed on the field under the watch of their hero, also an alumnus of the historically Black school in Tallahassee.  

“I met (Dawson) last year at the Andre Dawson Classic. You don’t see Hall-of-Famers like that, especially from FAMU,” said FAMU sophomore Jordan Brown, 20, of Coral Springs. 

“He opened the doors for us,” said Brown, who played in the Andre Dawson Classic, the annual baseball roundup held last weekend for the first time on the historic training ground in Vero Beach. Brown, wearing the number 12 jersey, and Ty Jackson, a senior donning the number 19 jersey, hit the field with excitement and determination as Dawson looked on.  

The former Major League Baseball star continues to serve as a guiding light for budding athletes kicking up the dust to break into the world of professional baseball.

Ty Jackson, center-fielder with FAMU’s Rattlers Baseball Team, poses during the Andre Dawson Classic held from Feb. 23 to Feb. 25, 2024 in Vero Beach. PHOTO BY JOSHUA KODIS

Dawson, who turns 70 in July, drove from his hometown in Miami to Vero Beach on Feb. 23 to cheer on his alma mater during his namesake conference. 

Dawson – an outfielder who played with the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Florida Marlins and the Montreal Expos – said he was excited to see the youngsters play good, solid baseball at Holman Stadium.

Brown, a left-fielder, and others with the FAMU Rattlers baseball team competed in the Andre Dawson Classic competition held from Feb. 23 to Feb. 25 at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex. The Rattlers won two out of three games during the Classic, which spotlights Historically Black Colleges and Universities along with their baseball programs.

“I hope they’re competitive and enjoy the opportunity. Some teams will get exposure on (national) TV,” Dawson told VeroNews before the tournament.

 “You never know who’s watching. Play at the next level.”

Andre Dawson Classic comes to Vero

An atmosphere of discipline, teamwork and brotherhood shone within the Florida A&M University baseball team as the athletes prepped for the much-anticipated Andre Dawson Classic tournament. 

The promising athletes stretched and ran drills against the backdrop of the sun setting in the horizon ahead of the event. Out in the distance, the sounds of baseballs smacking against the bats echoed throughout Holman Stadium.  

Former MLB pro Andre Dawson at the Andre Dawson Classic held from Feb. 23 to Feb. 25, 2024 in Vero Beach. PHOTO BY JOSHUA KODIS

The annual, round-robin baseball competition came to Vero Beach for the first time this year. The tournament relocated to the Jackie Robinson Training Complex, the former spring training site for the Brooklyn/L.A. Dodgers, including Baseball icon Jackie Robinson. 

Other HBCU teams that went to bat for the tournament were Alabama State University, Grambling State University, North Carolina A&T, Prairie View A&M and Southern University. 

“I’ve been trying to get them to move (the competition) here for years,” said Jamey Shouppe, head coach for the Rattlers baseball team. “This venue is where it should be at.”

The games were held throughout the days at the sports complex, located off Dodger Road and southwest of the Vero Beach Regional Airport. Attendees enjoyed a mix of warm and cool weather, along with clear skies, National Weather Service meteorologists said. 

“You can’t beat the weather,” said Dawson, who also goes by the nicknames ‘the Hawk’ and ‘Awesome Dawson.’ “It adds to the game itself, knowing you’ll have good playing conditions.”

The players hit the field, hitting home runs and sliding to home base during the sports tourney. Dawson spoke with sports commentators throughout last Friday night’s game between FAMU and Grambling, where he talked about MLB youth programs aimed toward recruiting more Black players. 

“These student athletes are getting coached, counseled and taught the game of baseball by guys who were major leaguers,” Dawson said. “I’m sure they appreciate that and look forward to it. It’s a stepping stone for them to get to the next level.”  

Jordan Brown, left-fielder for FAMU’s Rattlers Baseball Team, competes at the Andre Dawson Classic held from Feb. 23 to Feb. 25, 2024 in Vero Beach. PHOTO BY JOSHUA KODIS

Dawson played 21 seasons in MLB, mostly with the Montreal Expos and the Chicago Cubs. The Miami-born athlete is an eight-time all-star, eight-time Gold Glove Award Recipient and four-time Silver Slugger Award recipient.

Dawson is one of three Baseball Hall-of-Famers – including Lawrence “Larry” Doby and Lou Brock – who are HBCU alumni, according to MLB officials.  

Jackson said Dawson has spoken with him several times, offering words of encouragement. 

“I met him in Louisiana at the Classic,” said Jackson, 22, of Jacksonville. “It was great having a FAMU alum with that much history.” 

The Andre Dawson Classic – formerly known as the Urban Invitational – has been held at different sites for 16 years, according to MLB officials. MLB’s New Orleans Youth Academy hosted the showcase last year.

The move to host the event at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex was a no-brainer, organizers say. The facility formerly known as Historic Dodgertown was where Robinson, a Hall-of-Famer, once trained. 

Robinson broke the color barrier when he was signed in 1947 to MLB’s Brooklyn Dodgers as a second baseman. The Jackie Robinson Training Complex was the first fully integrated MLB spring training site in the south.

The facility was named a Florida Heritage Landmark in 2014 and added to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail – a series of nationally recognized locations that highlight the struggle for equal rights – in 2019.     

HBCU baseball programs

Dawson is still recovering from hip replacement surgery. Still, even with that health obstacle, the baseball pro made his way north to see the young athletes compete. 

The Hall-of-Famer said he has had other health issues, including three knee replacements. With age, Dawson said he’s not coaching like he previously did and wants other professionals to step up to the plate to mentor young athletes. 

Andre Dawson during the Andre Dawson Classic held from Feb. 23 to Feb. 25, 2024 in Vero Beach. PHOTO BY JOSHUA KODIS

“My body is crying out to pass it on,” Dawson said. 

Dawson said youth baseball is moving toward the travel team model, which he noted can be pricey for some families. The former outfielder said young players should aim to get full or partial scholarships at HBCU baseball programs. 

“I want to see more kids entertain the idea of an HBCU program,” Dawson said. “Lots of great (baseball) players came from HBCU programs.”

Most HBCUs emerged nearly a century before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a time when Black people were not allowed to attend most colleges and universities in America. HBCUs came about mostly during Reconstruction and offered black academics – and athletes- a place to train and thrive outside of Jim Crow restrictions.

Today, Brown and Jackson are two examples of baseball players nurtured by HBCUs and focused on moving on to major leagues. 

Brown, who competed in MLB’s Nike RBI youth program in 2018 at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex, said there’s not many minorities in MLB. Brown, a left-fielder who is 6 feet tall and weighs 170 pounds, said he wants to change that. 

“I want to show no matter what school you’re at, you can make it,” said Brown, who has a partial baseball scholarship at FAMU. “There’s talent at HBCUs. There are kids that can play at the Division 1 level. (This competition) shows you can come from anywhere and go where you want to go.”

As of April 2023, MLB had a roster that included 40 percent of players coming from diverse backgrounds, a two-percent increase from the previous year, according to the MLB website. Jackson, a center-fielder who is 5-feet 8-inches tall and weighs 190 pounds, said FAMU’s baseball team has a diverse mix of players.

Jackson, who has played baseball since age four, said it’s a blessing for him to attend FAMU, where he obtained a partial baseball scholarship. For Brown and Jackson, practicing with their teammates builds a camaraderie.

“It’s like a family,” Brown said. “You want to see them succeed. It’s like seeing your brother go out there and play.”

FAMU Rattler’s Baseball Team during the Andre Dawson Classic held from Feb. 23 to Feb. 25, 2024 in Vero Beach. PHOTO BY JOSHUA KODIS

Brown is majoring in pre-physical therapy and also aspires to become an athletic trainer or a physical therapist. Jackson’s major is in criminal justice. He has a goal to become an athletic coach.

FAMU is also recognized across the U.S. for its dedication to preserving African-American history. 

The university’s historic Carnegie Library was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Twenty years later, the campus along with the surrounding community were designated as a National Historic District, according to the school’s website.

FAMU’s campus contains the Meek-Eaton Black Archives Research Center & Museum, which collects and stores millions of pieces of history – including volumes, e-books, e-journals and microforms. The notable materials document the Black experience and culture in the Southeastern U.S. to support research and public education.      


Even though Dawson is no longer coaching young athletes, he still offers pieces of wisdom to help steer them in their athletic journey. The former baseball pro said he tries to share some things that got him to believe in his ability and move forward. 

Dawson said players should be true to themselves, know what they’re good at and be passionate about the game. 

“Go out and prove yourself,” Dawson said. “You have to really push…push continuously forward, because there will be more tough times than successes.”

Photos by Joshua Kodis

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