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

Home is Everything: The Latino Baseball Story

Library Journal
Highly recommended for public library baseball collections.

Bretón, a Sacramento Bee columnist, has taken a different approach, teaming with Bee photographer Villegas to produce what is more an eye-pleasing photo essay than strictly a history. He gives us a brief history and then provides biographical sketches of Latino players. He also offers the benefits of Villegas’s excellent camera work and a bilingual text. Further, he better shows the long row that Latinos have to hoe in order to make the majors, including many sobering photos and accounts of faded prospects back in the barrio. This is highly recommended for public library baseball collections.
Midwest Book Review
In HOME IS EVERYHING, Marcos Breton presents story vignettes of Latinos involved in American Baseball, told in both English and Spanish, and enhanced with full-color photographs by Jose Luis Villegas. Slices of daily life training and competing in this great sport, as well as the names and brief profiles of remarkable and dedicated people, comprise this celebration of baseball which is enthusiastically recommended for the fans of Latino players.
School Library Journal
This eloquently written, multifaceted photo-essay follows the story of Miguel Tejada of the Oakland Athletics, one of the most recent Latino success stories, but also includes stories of players who wash out, don’t make the big leagues, and elect to stay in the United States. José Santana, for example, was a prospect with the Houston Astros until he blew out his knee. In many ways, the chapter outlining the lives of 13 young men like Santana—talented, but not quite talented enough—is the most telling and heart wrenching. A final chapter on “The Immortals & Heroes” looks back on 50 years of well-known Latino players, adding the depth of history to an already thought-provoking work.

The color photographs are gorgeous, catching the spirit of both game and players with unerring visual insight. The Spanish translation, which is boxed in off-white on each page next to the facing English text, is seamless. This is an excellent addition for anyone with a passion for the game.
VOYA
Runs are scored at the homeplate of a team’s stadium or local diamond: home is a place of acceptance and affection. Since 1902, Latinos have excelled in the major leagues, but many have experienced racism and a lack of acceptance or appreciation of their skills. But times have changed: The American League named Miguel Tejada Most Valuable Player in 2002, Sammy Sosa has recorded homerun history, and increasing numbers of Latinos have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Filled with wonderful, evocative photographs by José Luis Villegas and text written in English and Spanish by Marcos Bretón, the book spotlights the hardships that players suffered in their poverty-stricken hometowns, the challenges that they faced when coming to the United States, and the sorrows and thrills that they experienced while aiming for the major leagues. Many photos are of players in the Dominican Republic and the Oakland A’s farm team, and they focus especially on Tejada. Also included are photos of players who have tried and failed as well as athletes who have achieved success. For the major leaguers included, there are brief statistics of their careers.

This book is not so much for finding information about various players as it is a portrayal of the passion of the sport: the struggles faced by Latinos wanting so much to make it in the big leagues. It ably succeeds. With is dual language format, it will be particularly valuable to readers leaning English or Spanish as a second language.
Chicago Tribune
In 1993 the Oakland Athletics paid $2000 to acquire a Dominican who had just turned 17. The boy, like nearly 1000 Latino players each year, moved to the U.S. to begin life in the minor leagues. 90 to 95 percent of those ballplayers are eventually released without getting even a cup of coffee in the Grandas Ligas. This kid was the exception, and nine years later Miguel Tejada won the American Week Most Valuable Player Award.

While "Home Is Everything" is not specifically about Tejada, his image dominates. With the smooth words of Marcos Breton and stunning photographs of Jose Luis Villegas, Tejada's journey from the barrio to the spotlight of a youthful, exciting A's team is documented with heart and passion.

Readers will see the difficulties faced by children in the Dominican Republic, the cultural shock of playing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, or Modesto, California, and, at least for Tejada, a successful major league career.

The book, written in English and Spanish, is divided into five sections with Breton's essay, "Home Is Everything," setting the stage for the Villegas photos and extended captions. Breton gives the quick survey of Latinos in the major leagues, from the days of Jacinto Calvo and Jose Acosta, who played in both the Negro and major leagues, through Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda up to today's influx of stars such as Tejada, Mariano Rivera, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez and, of course, Sammy Sosa.

But what gives this slim volume its gravitas are the stories, and the pictures of those who didn't make it. In the book's penultimate chapter, "The Forgotten Ones," we see former minor leaguers Robert Valera, Carlos Made and Alexi Velera sitting on the street corner in a rough section of the Bronx. We see Jose Santana struggling with a semipro team in Brooklyn, and Victor Uceta, who never had enough smoke on his fastball, returned to a Santo Domingo slum.

The book's most interesting photograph is called "Cultural Borders," where Latino and American players sit far apart on the dugout bench. Breton writes: "From the paltry amounts of money they receive compared to American players to diverging tastes in music, from different languages to different cultures, they dynamics on the 1996 West Michigan Whitecaps are emblematic of the schisms that exist between American and Latino players."

"Home Is Everything" feels dated because most of the photos are from 1996 and 1997. But Villegas' images of kids playing stickball on Rocky Fields, the determination and thrill on Tejada's face as he rounds second on his way to third and his first big league hit, and the sorrow on the faces of those who never handout possess the timeless qualities of dreams realized and hopes shattered.
SportsShooter.com
The Journey Home: The Latino Baseball Story
By Jose Luis Villegas, Sacramento Bee

It was a glorious late spring afternoon. My writer friend Marcos Bretón was sleeping as we flew around the pillow white clouds over Florida en route to Miami before arriving in Puerto Rico. I can remember thinking; "If we do this right, I know there's a book in it". We were to spend two weeks in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to do a series of stories on Latin Baseball for the Sacramento Bee. It was 1993.

The week before we had been in Minneapolis -St. Paul and Chicago interviewing Tony Oliva, Zolio Versalles, Minnie Minoso, Jorge Orta and Chico Carrasquel. Four of the five are legendary pioneers for their contribution and the integration of the game of baseball. Those four days are the four most gratifying days of my photographic career.

All five told stories of segregation, racism, as well as having to adjust to a new culture, language, food and the loneliness that comes from being young and alone in a strange new land.

Those four days stayed imbedded in the back of my mind throughout this project.

As I sat through each interview, I reflected on the experiences my father told of his youth. The parallel of his early years to the five, separated only by the profession they came north to pursue. My father had immigrated from Mexico to work the fields of Arkansas and eventually to Chicago in the mid 1950's where he learned how to make water heaters for Westinghouse. All had the same goal, building a better life for themselves and for their family.

By now, I hope you realize this project was more than just a baseball story. On a personal level, and 1st generation immigrant, it's a story that has touched me on so many levels.

I love baseball.

As a child, I followed the Alou brothers, Cepeda, and Marichal; I was a Giants fan. I remember looking at the back of Matty Alou's baseball card - Place of birth, Dominican Republic. Marichal - Dominican Republic, Cepeda - Puerto Rico. Those must be great places to be from I thought.

We thought it was going to be easy to find a publisher. The project was a natural. We had interest from half dozen book publishing houses after it published in the Sacramento Bee in 1993. A baseball strike the following spring derailed us. Rejection after rejection followed for the next eighteen months. The Alicia Patterson Foundation Grant in 1996 jump-started the project but more rejections followed. Two by Simon & Schuster.

In 1996 we met and began to follow a young prospect's rise through the minor leagues, his name was Miguel Tejada. Through him, we were able to tell the story of every prospect that had ventured north to pursue a dream.

It was a real shock and slap in the face to find out that our project had been rejected so many times because of it's content. A lot of book editors liked the idea we had, but the final decision to purchase the project was made by the marketing department within the publishing house. Almost all didn't want to invest in a project because they didn't think they could sell it.

It's a complex story about mostly black Spanish speaking men, immigration, and baseball, the vehicle that drives the story.

Who's going to bye a book like that we were told.

I think this is when the story took on a life of it's own. So many men had shared their experiences with us; Many for the first time. I felt a fire burning within, a responsibility to tell their story.

From 1994-1998 I continued to shoot portrait's of ballplayers with hope of someday publishing a photography book.

Finally, "Away Games" is published in the spring of 1999 by Simon & Schuster. It is a word driven book.

My mission is not over...

The advance Simon & Schuster gives us allows us to complete the project. Tejada makes it to the major leagues, and we are there.

Simon & Schuster had the first option on the next project, but they aren't interested in a companion book of photographs. Our New York agent gives up on the prospects of selling a photography book. Now I'm on my own....

Within two months Sport Publishing of Illinois buys the rights to the photography book. I fly out, we edit, and over the next four months we tweak the edit. Ninety photographs, too good to be true... and it was.

The day before the project goes to press, they kill it because the marketing director gets cold feet about selling a book about Spanish speaking black men from another country immigrating to the United States to play baseball.

Simon & Schuster sells the paperback rights of Away Games to the University of New Mexico Press. The press turns around and swaps the original cover of the book with an action picture of Miguel Tejada shot by my friend Eric Risberg published in the local paper the day the purchase is made. Did they call to let us know of the change? No...

We don't find out until the book has already been printed.

I'm feeling betrayed.

I was fortunate to be selected to work on the book project "Americanos", a book of Latin culture in the United States in 1999. Working on the project and seeing it's success; it rekindles my quest to get the baseball project published.

My friend Jimmy Dorantes, owner of Latin Focus photography agency in San Diego was an editor on the Americanos project. He asked if he could have a shot at selling my project.

Jimmy and I work the next twelve months looking for a publisher. Jimmy comes through; Cinco Puntos publishing house of El Paso, Texas wants to publish the project in English and Spanish. It is the summer of 2002.

It's too good to be true...

I try not to get too excited. I've been down this road before. If all goes well, the project will publish on my 20th year working as a photojournalist, as well as the 10th anniversary of the project. Did I fail to mention I was born in El Paso...? Wow, what a small world.

Over the ten years Marcos and I have felt and seen the magic of the project. When all seemed doomed, we were awarded the Patterson Grant. When Tejada was on the brink of being called up to the major leagues, Simon & Schuster makes an offer, and we are able to follow the kid when he's called up, and finish the project.

It is July of 2002. And the magic is at work again. Miguel Tejada, once the shoe shine boy growing up in one of the poorest barrio's in the Dominican Republic; abandoned by his father in his youth, left homeless by a hurricane; signed by the Oakland Athletics for a mere $2,500 signing bonus as a favor to a Dominican scout is carrying the big league team on his back in 2002. He would continue to do so throughout the season, and is named the American League's MVP.

Miguel ... A million to one shot, he has shattered all the odds. He is a remarkable young man.

My voyage is far less remarkable. But I see the parallel in the obstacles he and I faced to make it to publish the book, and the major leagues. Overcoming the biggest obstacle with a mainstream publisher never happened.

There were a few things I did learn in the process. The most important being that there are just as many people in the publishing world that are more than happy to tell you just how bad your work is as there are people who will tell you just how wonderful it is. You have to believe in yourself and the work that you've produced.

The Latin population is the fastest growing in the United States; it's unfortunate that none of the publishers had the desire to use our project to tap into that market. I understand that book publishers are in the business to make money. I just haven't seen very many projects published that could tap the Latin market, as well as catch the attention of people of other cultures like this one. I'm perplexed.

We were fortunate that Cinco Puntos saw the big picture. A good story line, depth, and most important, they believed in the story we were telling, and thought it was important to publish. It helped that a Latin publisher wanted to do a Latin story.

It's interesting the way the idea for this project has come full circle. Marcos and I had hoped from the beginning that a bilingual book would make so much sense. That idea was a hard sell because many publishers perceive that the Latin market doesn't buy books.

After the tragic death of the Mexican pop singer Selena, People Magazine published a story, with the cover photograph of Selena. For the first time in the magazine's history, the magazine sold out. I don't think that many people in America knew who Selena was before the movie of her life was released.

It was Cinco Puntos idea to publish "Home is Everything" with bilingual text, and contains eight-six color photographs.

It's difficult to explain just how heavy this venture has been for me personally. When I think of what my parents sacrificed to give their eight children the chance to grow up in the states; this book, in a very small way is my way to say thank you to them, and to all the people who shared their time and stories with us. Would I do it again, in a heart beat...

As a young boy, I hoped of someday becoming a major league ball player. That never happened. This book is my small contribution to the great Latin-American Pastime...
St. Petersburg Times
Bamboo bats to the bigs

The beauty of baseball is found in all the subplots, the moments that build before each pitch. The more you know about the theatrics behind a hit-and-run, where the conflicts a pitcher faces battling to stay ahead in the count, the richer your baseball experience is.

But say your bent for the game’s nuances leans more toward human drama. Home is Everything: The Latino Baseball Story attempts to shed a little light on the odyssey endured by a significant segment of the grand old game's population: Latin ballplayers.

The photographs by Jose Luis Villegas offer a raw glimpse at what occupies a large part of many Latino ballplayers' consciousness: the abject poverty of their homeland and their country's burning passion for the game.

Full-color street shots of a barrio in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic capital, and the ramshackle playgrounds of San Pedro de Macoris, the "city of shortstops" where Dominican youth play barefoot, bare-chested and with bamboo sticks for bats, drive this home.

The volume's bilingual text by Marcos Breton chronicles the Latin prospect's journey to a foreign land, providing insights into the pressure these outsiders face trying to master huge cultural barriers while learning to handle a big league offspeed pitch. For many Latino big leaguers, the "Grandes Ligas" is still not without its cultural challenges and prejudices.

Home is Everything also portrays those who didn't make it and are now living as undocumented immigrants trying to scratch out a living in the United States. For every Miguel Tejada, the 2002 American League MVP, whose journey to the Oakland A's from Bani, the Dominican Republic, is featured in this book, there are countless more whose abilities didn't match their dreams.

As baseball enters its third century, Latin ballplayers are taking centerstage on the Diamond—
every major league baseball team has some Latin presence. Given the obvious language barrier in chronicling the stories of Latin players, bilingual photography books like Home is Everything: The Latino Baseball Story are invaluable in helping to understand what truly is the "game of the Americas."
El Paso Scene
Truly, this book will revive your interest in what used to be and, for some, still is “America’s game.” 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.
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 Ordóńez, 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 “...is 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.
Orlando Cepeda
This is our story, the story of Latinos in major league baseball, a story that is brought to life in the photographs of José Luis Villegas and the words of Marcos Breton. I’ve known José for a decade. He and his colleague Marcos Breton came to me in 1993 with the idea of publishing a book on the Latino history, our history, my history, in baseball. I was skeptical. I didn’t think it could be done. It had never been done. At least not well.

For much of my life, I had been an outsider in this game I love, as had many Latinos in the big leagues. We were misunderstood, our stories were overlooked, our contributions weren’t appreciated. We were only beloved in our own homes, in our countries. How could José Luis convey that in his work?

How?

Through his compassion as a human being and his brilliance as a photographer. José captures how much we love this game, how much it means to us, how we begin playing it from the time we are children and how it is so much a part of our lives.
This is our story, the story of Latinos in major league baseball, a story that is brought to life in the photographs of José Luis Villegas and the words of Marcos Breton. I’ve known José for a decade. He and his colleague Marcos Breton came to me in 1993 with the idea of publishing a book on the Latino history, our history, my history, in baseball. I was skeptical. I didn’t think it could be done. It had never been done. At least not well.

For much of my life, I had been an outsider in this game I love, as had many Latinos in the big leagues. We were misunderstood, our stories were overlooked, our contributions weren’t appreciated. We were only beloved in our own homes, in our countries. How could José Luis convey that in his work?

How?

Through his compassion as a human being and his brilliance as a photographer. José captures how much we love this game, how much it means to us, how we begin playing it from the time we are children and how it is so much a part of our lives.

Latinos have been in the big leagues since 1902. Forty-five of us played before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. My own father, though he was a better player than me, was barred from the big leagues in the 1940s because he was black. I carried his hurt with me into the big leagues in 1958. I fought against the racism my people experienced in this game.

And I always spoke of how we, Latinos in baseball, deserved to be recognized for what we brought to the game.

At one time I thought that would never happen. But now I’ve changed my mind. In 1999, I was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, joining other greats from Latin America, such as Roberto Clemente, Luis Aparicio, Juan Marichal and Rod Carew. For me, my induction was a blessed event, and the final rite of acceptance into this country that I now call home.

How beautiful that this book comes along now, in this time of opportunity for Latino ballplayers. My young brothers from Latin America are now so much a part of this game. They have achieved levels of fame I could never imagine. I feel proud of their achievements and proud of my contribution. And I’m proud of this book. It’s our story, it’s my story. It’s the story of our home.

God bless José and Marcos, God bless baseball and God bless all of the Americas.
Sandy Alderson, Executive VP Baseball Operations, MLB
Success in the Major Leagues is difficult to achieve under the best of circumstances, but in HOME IS EVERYTHING Jose Luis Villegas and Marcos Breton convincingly portray the additional difficulty faced by Latino players who have had to overcome barriers of language, culture and prejudice. While many players have succeeded despite these barriers, others have not. HOME IS EVERYTHING chronicles the journey which many Latino players take to escape poverty and adversity and to play in the "Grandes Ligas."

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