(By James Wagner for The New York Times) Dillon Cousin is from Slidell, La., a suburb of New Orleans, and he grew up playing baseball. Although Cousin, 19, said everybody in his family — “that’s not even an exaggeration” — is a graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically Black university in New Orleans, he committed to a university in Alabama instead. He could play baseball there.
But when XULA, as it is also known, announced in 2019 that it was resurrecting a baseball program that had been dormant since 1960, Cousin said he was “really shocked.” And when the newly hired XULA head coach, Adrian Holloway, invited Cousin to an athletic event on campus, gave him a tour, explained his vision and made him a generous scholarship offer, Cousin was sold.
“It’s a good school for putting people in medical school that look like me, and that’s what I want to do, actually,” Cousin, a freshman pitcher and first baseman, said in a phone interview. “I want to become a sports medicine doctor, so Xavier was really a perfect fit.”
While the baseball industry in the United States continues wrestling with persistent problems like inaccessibility and homogeny, and several H.B.C.U.s have cut baseball programs over the years, XULA achieved a notable milestone on Tuesday: It played its first intercollegiate baseball games in six decades.
And with an assist from Major League Baseball, Tuesday’s doubleheader — which the Gold Rush split against Bryant & Stratton College — was played at home. Not only does XULA use M.L.B.’s Urban Youth Academy at Wesley Barrow Stadium for practices and games, but so does the softball team, a new sport for the school. No other university in the country can call an M.L.B. facility its home stadium — an arrangement officials hoped would continue their efforts to improve participation and diversity in baseball and softball.
“Kids can now see the whole pipeline,” said Eddie Davis, the director of the youth academy in New Orleans, one of 11 such facilities across the country. “The younger kids can see former academy kids playing high school on the same field and now playing college on the same field. It’s tangible. Before, it was kind of grayish; you really can’t touch it. But now, you can.”
Playing college games at Wesley Barrow Stadium will complete a circle for 10 of the 43 players on XULA’s baseball roster. The 10, including Cousin and Blair Frederick, 23, a graduate student who is a pitcher and outfielder, are alumni of the academy.
“When I really started to get into baseball seriously, I was at the academy and putting in work,” said Frederick, a New Orleanian who graduated from the University of New Orleans after spending his first years of college playing or recovering from arm injuries at baseball powerhouses like Louisiana State and San Jacinto College. “And now toward the end of my career, I’m back at the academy.”
The academy, open to children ages 6 to 19, provides free on-field instruction. But its work extends off the diamond, too, to a junior broadcasting program and a sports law program hosted with Tulane. Two XULA baseball players — Donovan Gibson and Andreas Palmer — are graduates of the latter.
“You got to raise the sea to raise all the ships,” Davis said, adding that many will not reach the major leagues but some “may be the next Kim Ng or they may be the next G.M. or the next V.P. of sales, and then their kids are familiar with the game but then that kid might be the next Derek Jeter.”
Like Cousin, Frederick was surprised to learn XULA had resurrected baseball. His mother used to work at the university, so he spent many hours there after class in elementary school, but he didn’t think he would play baseball there. Now at XULA, he welcomed the chance. Read the full story here.