Bilingual sports fans have it rough. They can get their English-language sports coverage from certain places, and their Spanish-language sports coverage from other places—but never both from one place. That is, until now. ESPN’s new podcast One Nación, based on the blog of the same name, blends together both languages seamlessly in the same way that real bilingual sports fans actually talk to each other. Maria Hinojosa talks to host and ESPN anchor Max Bretos, along with ESPN reporter Antonietta Collins, about what the show hopes to bring to fans and to the sports world at large.
I am a Boston Red Sox fan. The story of how a kid born in Puerto Rico and also lived in the Bronx —but now roots for the Red Sox— is complicated. I explain it all here:
I am also a huge baseball fan, and even though my Red Sox were awful (again) this year, I must admit—this year’s MLB playoff matchups have gotten me pumped. As pumped as this kid (although I refuse to take off my shirt):
The reason for my 2015 Béisbol Renaissance has to do with some of the teams playing (or now not playing). The New York Mets (my uncle’s favorite team). The Los Angeles Dodgers (Dodger Stadium is WAY BETTER than Fenway: there I said it). The Yankees already losing last night to the Astros (a team I used to catch in the early 80s at the Astrodome during our family stint in Sugarland, Texas).
You see, I was born the year that U.S. astronauts walked on the moon for the first time, at the peak of Roberto Clemente’s career for the Pirates. I recall a grainy photo someone took of me in my cousin’s backyard. I am wearing an old-school Pirates tee and smiling. In my mind, the tee looks something like this:
In my mind, EVERY Puerto Rican on the island in the early 1970s rooted for the Piratas. All because of Clemente. He was the greatest. The best. El orgullo de Puerto Rico. The Pride of Puerto Rico. When Clemente died on December 31, 1972, in my mind, I thought the entire island wept. I was three years old, and my hero was already gone.
As I grew older, I always felt an emotional connection to the Pirates. When I was 10, I thought this was the greatest moment of 1979:
I so want the Pirates to win another World Series, but I have this big problem: this year the Cubbies are also in the playoffs.
My love of the Cubs started in the early 80s, when I left the hot summers of Sugarland, Texas, and went back to the hot summers of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Chicago’s WGN was one of those cable “superstations” broadcasting baseball games, and the Cubs were the main event. My abuelo, Papito Juan, had this afternoon routine that I will forever cherish. After lunch, he would sit in his rocking chair and turn on the Cubs game. Nothing, nothing beat WGN and afternoon baseball from Wrigley Field. I would always join my abuelo and watch those games.
The ivy. Ryne Sandberg. Harry Caray. Holy Cow. Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Chicago.
I was hooked. The bonus to those Cubs games was my abuelo telling me baseball stories for hours. I vividly recall two Papito Juan tales to this day. The first one was all about Satchell Paige, who played in Puerto Rico before the start of World War II. My abuelo told me that when Paige was pitching for the Brujos de Guayama (the Guayama Warlocks, greatest name ever), Paige walked off the mound in the middle of a game because he thought he saw a ghost. The second story about Vic Power and a grand slam he hit in Caguas turned into a short storyI wrote, which was soon published in an anthology.
So when the Cubs blew the 1984 NLCS against the Padres, I cried. When they lost to the Marlins in 2003, I had no words. The Cubs always take me back to those amazing summer days with Papito Juan. I also know my abuelo would forgive Bartman.
Add the fact that former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein has turned the Cubs into a very strong team and that former Sox pitcher Jon Lester is a Cubbie, and you can see my dilemma.
Do I turn my back on Clemente? Or do I root for the Pirates and disrespect Papito Juan, who I guarantee has found Clemente up in heaven and is setting up two rocking chairs tonight to catch the playoff game?
I will choose family over the hero tonight. But if the Cubs lose, ¡que vivan los Piratas! Go Pirates!
This all started when someone sent me a Deadspin article Wednesday with opinions from San Diego Padres pitcher Bud Norris about foreign-born baseball players. Norris was being interviewed for a USA Today on bench-clearing brawls (you know, when baseball players stop playing baseball and start fighting each other) and whether (wait for it) the latest fights in baseball during the past five years were suddenly more and more racially motivated. This is what Norris said:
When told the large majority of the benches-clearing incidents involved players of different backgrounds, Norris nodded knowingly.
“I think it’s a culture shock,’’ Norris said. “This is America’s game. This is America’s pastime, and over the last 10-15 years we’ve seen a very big world influence in this game, which we as a union and as players appreciate. We’re opening this game to everyone that can play. However, if you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for over a hundred years, and I think sometimes that can be misconstrued. There are some players that have antics, that have done things over the years that we don’t necessarily agree with.
“I understand you want to say it’s a cultural thing or an upbringing thing. But by the time you get to the big leagues, you better have a pretty good understanding of what this league is and how long it’s been around.’’
You would think that Norris, who now plays for a team just miles from Mexico, should have kept his opinions to himself—does he even know how the Padres have courted Mexicans fans for years? That’s strike one.
I could also just analyze Norris’ comments about how baseball has changed in the last 15 years and become more foreign (26.5% of all MLB baseball players either on 2015 Opening Day rosters or inactive lists were born outside of the United States) and specifically, more Latin American (if you count only players from that region, it would be 23% of all players in 2015), but players like Norris no longer surprise me.
There have been many examples of American baseball players and sports commentators lamenting how “foreign” the national pastime has become. In 2012, former Chicago Cubs pitcher and ESPN personality Rick Sutcliffe wanted outfielder Melky Cabrera deported for using performance-enhancing drugs. In 2007, Gary Sheffield pretty much concluded that Latin American players were just not as smart as their American counterparts. In 2010, Torii Hunter called black Latin American players “impostors.” And who can forget ex-ESPN Radio personality Colin Cowherd’s anti-Dominican comments from earlier this year? Norris’ words this week in USA Today were just the latest instance of what has become the standard: baseball is dying, so let’s blame the foreigners.
Yet while others are blasting Norris, I wanted to focus a bit more about the actual USA Today article, which I found a bit bizarre. Titled, “Baseball’s culture clash: Vast majority of brawls involve different ethnicities,” reporter Jorge L. Ortiz tells us this: “A USA TODAY Sports study of 67 bench-clearing incidents in Major League Baseball over the past five seasons found the main antagonists hailed from different ethnic backgrounds in 87% of the cases. Just more than half of them —34 — pitted white Americans against foreign-born Latinos. Another four featured white Americans and U.S.-born Latinos.”
The article also included a cool graphic, implying that the latest fighting incidents are suddenly all about “clash of cultures.”
I understand that Ortiz’s reporting is valuable to the conversation, but I don’t think having a five-year analysis of brawls in MLB instantly signifies that this is all about a sudden “culture clash” between whites and U.S. Latinos and Latin American players (brief aside: I like to try make the distinction between those Latinos in the U.S. and Latin Americans.)
Call me old-school, but I thought that fighting has always been a part of baseball (cultures have clashed for decades), and Ortiz’s story should have at least given the reader a bit more historical context. The following sentence from his article alone doesn’t cut it: Baseball has long held to a tradition of unwritten rules of etiquette whose interpretation may vary, with factors such as age and country of origin as part of the mix. I was left with wanting more.
Why didn’t the USA Today story add another few sentences? It’s not like the Internet doesn’t have examples of fights during the days when baseball wasn’t integrated or even when it was integrated. In 1932, Yankee catcher Bill Dickey punched Washington’s Carl Reynolds in the jaw as Reynolds crossed home plate. Or what about Ty Cobb and the time when he beat up a disabled fan in the stands in 1911? Those who follow the game will also never forget the 1984 epic brawl between the Atlanta Braves and the Padres: that was one multicultural fight.
In this digital age, you would think that USA Today could have embed a few videos of some of the fights that have happened throughout the years. They aren’t hard to find:
Those clips show white players fighting black players, white players fighting white players, Latin Americans fighting U.S. Latinos, black players fighting Latin Americans and other combinations. A USA Today analysis suggests that the situation between whites and Latin American/Latino players has now gotten worse? The situation has never changed.
As a kid, I grew up with Orioles legend Mike Cuellar, a Cy Young award winner from Cuba who passed away in 2010. Mike would share so many stories about how white players treated their Latin American counterparts. It was straight-up discrimination and racism. Similar stories happened to the great Clemente. Suddenly this is all a new issue?
Baseball players fight. They have been doing it for a while now, and now that there are more Latin American players playing, there is just a greater chance that they will be in those fights. Is there a new resentment? Is it now all racially motivated? I would counter with this: Hasn’t it always been around? Furthermore, because baseball is so competitive, you just wonder if it is also the heat of the battle that drives these fights and nothing more.
I get that Ortiz’s reporting is important—the way he weaves how Latin American players view baseball is solid. And without Ortiz’s story, we would have never read what Norris said. But at the same time, turning this USA Today story into some special report without giving the piece some more context didn’t present readers with the entire picture. I mean, when Dominican Juan Marichal and American John Roseboro fought in 1965, and Marichal hit Roseboro with a bat, I don’t think it had to do solely with it being a “culture clash” or that Roseboro was black (so is Marichal). This brawl was also about the Los Angeles Dodgers against the San Francisco Giants, two teams who have traditionally hated each other for decades. Baseball players might just fight for other reasons besides cultural or racial differences.
I am not ready to think that suddenly all white baseball players are fearful of losing their jobs to foreign players. Without Latin Americans and U.S. Latinos playing baseball, the national pastime would have died a long time ago, and no one be playing these days. Listen to what we at Latino USA had to say about that earlier this summer:
And if we really want to talk about racial and institutional tension in baseball, let’s focus on the bigger issue, so aptly explained by comedian George Lopez in this video:
That Lopez commentary, I’m sure, is one both Ortiz and myself would agree on.
Featured image: 2008 fight between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, Kevin Bedell/Flickr
Cuba is a renowned baseball country, producing incredible talent like Luis Tiant, Yasiel Puig and José Abreu. But while there is glory in Cuba, there is no gold, and players continually flee their country in the hopes of making it big in the U.S. and signing an almost guaranteed multi-million dollar MLB contract. So what kind of legacy do these players leave behind when they leave their home country and succeed in the U.S.?
Photo of baseball players in Cuba, by Dasha Lisitsina
Fenway Park, the oldest ballpark in MLB, embodies the best of baseball: tradition, family, and the American spirit—that is, if you’re white. For Boston’s black and Latino communities, Fenway has represented a cruel racial history of exclusion. But that history started to change once the Red Sox witnessed a string of powerhouse Latino players like Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez, prompting the stadium to fill with Dominican flags, Caribbean music and and a whole new culture the city didn’t know it had.
Latino USA’s Digital Media Director Julio Ricardo Varela, who founded LatinoRebels.com, tells the story of how he betrayed his Bronx roots and became a Red Sox because of this change.
Long before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line, Latinos were bending it. For decades, the color line unofficially barred African-Americans from the Major Leagues, but racially ambiguous Cuban and other Latin American players found themselves dead center in the middle of a racial hierarchy that allowed a select few to push the limits of Major League Baseball’s presumed whiteness—limits that went so far that some managers even tried to some pass African-American players off as Latinos in the hopes of hiring them without public backlash.
Photo: Inside the Baseball Hall of Fame (Credit: Latino USA)
Ernesto Jerez, ESPN’s Spanish-language MLB broadcaster famous for his signature home run cry, gives his thoughts on where America’s pastime is headed. As more and more Latinos make their way into MLB, Jerez believes they will play a crucial role —both as players and fans— in keeping the game alive in a society that seems to have decreasing patience for a nine-inning game.
Photo of Jerez celebrating his 2015 Emmy win (via Twitter).
This week, Latino USA explores the past, present and future of baseball. From the history of how Latino players bent the rules of the color line in the years before Jackie Robinson, to the story of how and why Dominican fans starting showing up at Boston’s notoriously white Fenway Park, to the challenges that immigrant players face on their journey to the Major Leagues.
As expected, when we decided to promote this week’s upcoming Béisbol show by asking our listeners to name the five best (or favorite) Latino baseball players ever, the responses were as diverse as the 75 players named. Our listeners do know their béisbol.
By far, the top four players named were not a surprise. Mostly EVERYONE who filled out the survey included at least one (or all) of these legends:
After those top four names, this was the next tier of mentions. Watch and enjoy.
This list could go on and on and on. If you want to read what others are saying, you can catch the conversation on Twitter. You can also tweet to @LatinoUSA, since I am sure you will begin to say that our listeners missed some big names, right? Seriously, we could have added 80 more names to this list, but I had only about two hours to find YouTube videos. It’s a good thing MLB did a pretty exhaustive list in 2012. You can check that one out and tell us what you think.
A few other things. Some of you asked that we let people know that the great Ted Williams is of Mexican descent from his mother’s side. A 2005 New York Times article discussed how Williams tried to play down his Mexcian heritage. Nonentheless, in 2012, MLB added Williams to the All-Time Latino Team.
In addition, my good friend Luis Marentes wanted to make sure I shout out Alex Cora because the survey also asked listeners for their favorite players, and not just the best. Luis wins on a technicality, so here’s an Alex Cora video (with a Vin Scully appearance):
Finally, I closed my last post with a cool béisbol song, so I decided to end this one with a song from my childhood.
Please indulge us a for a few minutes, since we have some exciting news to share. This weekend, our show will be all about béisbol (or pelota, if you’re old-school caribeño like me). Our producer Michael Simon Johnson was featured in Sunday’s Daily News, where he gave listeners just a taste of why he and the team decided to dedicate an entire hour to the national pastime and the sport’s Latino influences. As I write this, I can barely contain my giddiness in what we will be sharing with you in a few days. That’s the reason why I took to Twitter earlier today and made this very simple request:
So this weekend @LatinoUSA is doing a show about BÉISBOL. To get the convo started, tweet me your top 5 Latino ballplayers ever.
The responses so far have made me smile. A lot. So many of you chiming in. Not surprisingly, the debate is getting heated (Pedro? Clemente? Fernando? Mariano?). And then there is this, perhaps one of the greatest publicity photos ever taken in the history of the modern world (name the five players here and I will be impressed):
When you think Mexico, you don’t really think of NASCAR, but the stock car racing empire has been in Mexico at least long enough for Germán Quiroga to be the only driver to win three consecutive series titles in his home country. Now trying his hand in the U.S. series, Quiroga talks with us about his journey and what it’s like being the only Latin American in NASCAR.
It seems like a paradox: Miami has a large Latino population, but no professional soccer team. What will it take to bring a profitable soccer team to the magic city? Could it be – David Beckham? Maria Hinojosa talks to Cesar Diaz about why the sport might need an international high-roller and what a new futból team could mean for Miami.
Cesar Diaz is the Editor-in-Chief for LatinoSports.com & ThisIsCosmosCountry.com. With his family DNA scattered throughout Latin America, he’s never paid for lodging. His tools consist of Cafe Bustelo, Pen, Pad, Humor, Patience, Cantinflas/Chapulin Colorado films and his trusty laptop, Rocinante. Easily approachable, follow him at @CesarDiazNYC or simply email him at CDiazNYC@gmail.com.
Who are the Latinos who are representing us at the Olympics in Sochi? Rico Roman is a US veteran who was injured while on his third tour in Iraq. He told Maria about his injury, recovery and success in becoming a sled hockey player in the upcoming Paralympics in Sochi.
Rico Roman is a member of the US Paralympic Sled Hockey team. He is a US Army veteran and a recipient of the Purple Heart. He currently resides in Wincrest, Texas with his wife and two children.
J.P. Garcia shouldn’t love surfing. With a mom who preferred pools and dad who was scared of the water, no one could have guessed that Garcia would become a “soul surfer”—a surfer who is in touch with nature. But not only has he become a talented surfer, he has also started to pass along his knowledge and skillsets onto the next generation. Diane Bock reports from Santa Barbara, California.
Photo by Diane Bock
Diane Bock is an independent radio producer who enjoys surfing in tropical water.
Despite Cuba’s track record of culling baseball talent, players on the island still make about as much money as an average construction worker. So it’s not surprising that one of their best players, 26-year-old center fielder Rusney Castillo, has defected from his home country in the hopes of signing with a Major League team in the U.S. This comes just months after Cuba’s recent change in policy allowing its players to sign with foreign leagues. But with the U.S. embargo on Cuba still on the books, Cuba will have to do much more to keep its star sluggers from leaving home and heading to the fame and fortune of the American dugout.