‘It is very important’: Heritage Classic highlights more than just Raines, Ribault baseball teams

The Raines and Ribault baseball teams met in the Heritage Classic at 121 Financial Ballpark on Wednesday. (News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It doesn’t count in the standings. The high school baseball regular season begins next week. But the Heritage Classic between Raines and Ribault is something far greater than just an exhibition game that doesn’t count for a win or a loss.

It’s much more than just a preseason game and city bragging rights, although the Trojans notched them for another year with an 8-3 win on Wednesday at 121 Financial Ballpark. The game has become a way to remember and look ahead.

Ribault head coach Grady Foster said the experience is invaluable because it marries Jacksonville’s storied past when it was home to the Negro League’s Red Caps (1938, 1941-42) to current players, coaches and the community. As is tradition in the Heritage Classic, both teams wore Red Caps-centric throwback jerseys.

Foster, a 1982 Ribault High graduate, said the Heritage Classic is one small way of keeping that past relevant in modern time.

“It means a lot. The African American leagues in Jacksonville were big back in the day. Some of the guys that I knew growing up … played in those leagues,” Foster said. “I met them when I was younger, and it’s just a way for us to bring it back and expose these kids to inner city, African [American] League Baseball.”

Jumbo Shrimp owner Ken Babby and general manager Harold Craw have made it a priority to invest in the community. One of the areas that Craw targeted as a priority was the team’s ability to reach into the city’s rich history in the Negro Leagues and blend it with Jacksonville high schools.

Raines and Ribault were the obvious choices.

“Just to get that experience as a high school ballplayer. I think it’s beneficial for the development of our athletes,” said Raines head coach Darian Thomas. “And it’s also fun and that’s what we’re here for.”

Craw said during the announcement about the Heritage Classic and companion events for Black History Month that he’d heard time and again, even working in other markets, how neglected Black communities have felt by professional baseball.

According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida, Black players on Major League Baseball rosters has dropped from 18% in 1991 to just 7.2% last year.

When Craw heard those same criticisms time and again and saw the data to back that up, it had him asking questions on how baseball could do better in that area.

“I feel that it is very important to know our heritage and to play ball,” said Ribault senior Ja’Juan Mallory. “There’s not a lot of Black people in the community that want to play baseball, but I think this game brings to light a game, a sport that I love, that my teammates love, and it’s really important.”

Raines pushed two runs across in the top of the first inning. Ribault countered with three runs in the bottom of the frame and never trailed again in winning its second consecutive game in the series. Even with a result that doesn’t count toward regular season records, the pageantry was top shelf. Duval County Public Schools had classes from several elementary schools on a field trip at the game. All 17 athletic directors from DCPS high schools were also in the crowd.

“Really important because it brings a light to our history,” Mallory said. “I don’t think a lot of people knew about the Negro Leagues that much but I think this game brings a light to the bright history of the Negro Leagues and the Red Caps.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.