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<< Back to Home is Everything: The Latino Baseball Story

Home is Everything: The Latino Baseball Story

El Paso Scene

Latino Baseball Book Hits Home Run

In the spring of this year, Cinco Puntos Press here in El Paso produced Home Is Everything: The Latino Baseball Story. This book is a beautifully designed, 144-page, bilingual presentation of Latino baseball in Latin America and in the U.S. The full-color photographs by José Luis Villegas are exceptionally vivid. After the preface by Orlando Cepeda, Marcos Brotón writes the smoothly flowing text, translated by Daniel Santacruz.

The story exudes the flavor of baseball, “the most American of games.” The reader feels the excitement of a kid who crosses home plate on a dusty field, or of a professional who ends up at a major league stadium where he reaches the magic home of his dreams.

The book, though, focuses on the many Latino athletes who have brought new life to the sport. As one example, in the seventh game of the 1997 World Series, the Florida Marlins were trailing the Cleveland Indians. Their gloom disappeared as Craige Counsel scored on a hit by, who else, Edgar Rentería, and the Latino’s hit gave the Marlins their World Series victory. Rentería came from Barranquila, Colombia, and learned baseball on barrio streets where kids played barefoot, with bamboo sticks for bats, and balls made from rolled-up cloth.

The book’s baseball history alone is worth the reading. Latinos have appeared in professional baseball since 1902, long before Jackie Robinson’s history-making entrance in 1945. But players, many from Cuba, had to be light-skinned. Dark-skinned athletes were not welcome-until Robinson. Some Hispanics and blacks began entering the two leagues after 1947. Hispanic names appeared, like Minnie Minoso, Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Vic Power, Zoilo Versalles, and Chico Carrasquel. As the author puts it, African-Americans and Latinos “changed the game.”

In 1976, however, free agency, mile-high salaries, and huge signing bonuses began causing financial problems. So, owners started turning to Latin America for lower-priced athletes. Latino names became well-known: George Bell, José Conseco, Sammy Sosa, Juan González, Rafael Palmeires, Ivan Rodríguez, Sandy Alomar Jr., and others. And these athletes were no longer cheap. In 1994 the players’ baseball strike nearly ruined the game; fans stayed away. Baseball’s recovery leaned more and more on Latinos. In 1995, fifteen Latinos played in that year’s All-Star Game. Latino players became familiar: Pedro Martínez, Edgar Rentería, Livan Hernández, Orlando (“el Duque”) Hernández, Roy Ordóñez, Alex Rodríguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Eric Chávez, Mariano Rivera, Fernando Valenzuela, and Vinny Castilla.

Here’s a trivia question that will catch some by surprise. Who was the greatest American-born Latino hitter of all time? Answer: Ted Williams, who had a Mexican mother and a Welsh father.

But the most gripping pages of the book describe one place where American professional baseball began picking up Latino players-the Dominican Republic, an island half the size of South Carolina. In that economically poor and politically unstable country, baseball “ in the DNA of every single resident. Baseball is in the air, the water and the earth.” One such site in the Republic is San Pedro de Macoris, the hometown of Sammy Sosa, George Bell, Tony Fernández, Rico Carty, and others. Town residents claim that “baseball is in our blood.”

The author thinks pure and true baseball exists in Latin America as baseball was in the U.S before the astronomical explosion of money in the sport. Latin American baseball is different. It has a distinctive color and rhythm. It is more a way of life than entertainment. And, the sport offers some hope to gifted players and their dreams of rising above their inhuman poverty.

All U.S. professional baseball teams now have Latino players. The Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Dodgers have even built baseball camps in the jungles of the Dominican Republic where Dominican youth learn skills, discipline, punctuality, following instructions, and the English language. This experience is frequently the first time that young men have slept in beds with clean sheets, eaten balanced meals, or used a toilet or shower. Eventually, the players are weeded out in leagues in the U.S. The survivors from that elimination enter spring training for more sorting out. The competition is fierce, the culture shock numbing, the homesickness painful, and the struggle with English disorienting. More weeding out takes place. The pressure makes some quit. Injuries eliminate others. Ninety to 95 percent of these young men are released in these minor leagues. Those youth return to their poverty at home, stay as undocumented workers in the States, or, a few, enter the legal process to obtain residency and citizenship. One can only imagine the disillusionment that debilitates those who fail to reach the big-time. As a matter of fact, I learned recently from a former Dominican that more than one young boy gives up baseball back in Dominica itself and comes to hate the sport because of too much pressure by relatives and friends.

Truly, this book will revive your interest in what used to be and, for some, still is “America’s game.” That interest would be welcome for minor league baseball here in El Paso. Reports tell us of extremely low attendance at Cohen Stadium this summer. In any case, get the book for your own soul’s good. It also makes a delightful gift for someone who is crazy about baseball.

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