Baseball may be America’s pastime, but the sport now has deep roots in several Latin American countries. Latinos have always been part of baseball, but there’s been a noticeable surge of Latino players in recent years. This season alone broke records: according to the Major League Baseball, 29.8% of players were born outside the 50 states, and the majority of them are Latinos. The Dominican Republic has more players in MLB more than any other country, leading with 93 players. Venezuela is second with 77 players and Cuba is third with 23 players. Aside from the baseball culture change, there’s also room for growth when it comes to understanding Latinos. In fact, sports media and others within the industry have started to learn Spanish in order to fully grasp the identity of the players and be sensitive towards their needs.
ESPN did something pretty awesome to cover this cultural shift. The network profiled 50 Latino MLB players and asked them their thoughts on a variety of topics about their lives on and off the field. It’s astonishing that they can be so focused on their job while balancing their new lives in the United States.
Here are some highlights from the ESPN feature story, but make sure to check out the full piece on ESPN.com.
Carlos González of the Colorado Rockies talked about the flair Latinos bring to baseball:
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“Maybe for guys from Cuba and the Dominican Republic, there’s a larger difference because they put more flair into the way they play, and they come to the United States and people don’t really like that. You see a lot of issues with guys like [Yoenis] Céspedes or [Yasiel] Puig, when they’re celebrating. However, that’s the only way they know, and I get it. Everyone comes from different situations, so you have to be open-minded. You’ve got to understand why they do that kind of stuff. You can’t just judge people because of the way they play.”
Brayan Peña of the Kansas City Royals talked about balancing his family life:
“I defected when I was 16. Here, if you play hard and you do the right thing, you have an opportunity to show your talent. In Cuba, if you play hard and you do the right thing, you’re not going anywhere. If the Cuban government doesn’t like the way you act or the way you think, it doesn’t matter how much talent you have. That’s why a lot of us made those tough decisions to defect and leave our friends and families behind. We want to follow a dream. America gives us that dream.”
Carlos Gómez of the Texas Rangers revealed how much he misses his family:
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“It’s tough to have the life of a baseball player. I feel lonely without [my family]. Previously, my oldest son started the school year in the States and ended it in the Dominican. I didn’t want to do it that way this year since he would have to separate himself from his teachers and friends. I don’t think it’s healthy for him. So I better sacrifice myself so they can be normal kids.”
Óliver Pérez of the Washington Nationals talked about the language barrier:
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“When I came here at 17, I didn’t even know how to say ‘No. 1.’ It was hard to go get something to eat, to understand play instructions. I listened to English all day long without actually understanding it. But there’s no language on the field. It’s just baseball, and that’s something you understand.”
Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers talked about identity and politics:
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“[Immigration] is an important topic that’s talked about in the clubhouses, in homes, in the streets. I hope that, like all politicians who never go through with what they say on their campaign, [President Donald Trump] doesn’t go through with it [his threats to deport undocumented immigrants]. I feel the fears of a lot of people. That does affect me, not what one person says, but what so many suffer, especially if they are Latinos.”
Carlos Santana of the Cleveland Indians talked about what he did with one of his first bonus checks:
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“If you look at all players, especially Dominicans, when they get to the MLB and they get a good bonus, the first thing they do is secure a house for their moms. We Dominicans believe in this. Mom ate bones; now she has to eat dough.”
Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners explained how Latino players dealt with being away from home cooking:
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“On road trips, teams gave us meal money, which was like $20. To help each other, let’s say we were six or eight Latinos, we collected our money and we bought groceries collectively. We got chicken and rice. We had an electric skillet for rice, and we had a pan for the meat. It was forbidden to cook inside the hotel, so we had to avoid having the smoke from our cooking get to the smoke detectors. We cooked in there and we saved ourselves a ton of money. If each of us contributed $20, we did a good grocery shopping trip and it lasted for the four to eight days of the road trip.”
There’s so much more insight in ESPN’s piece, so make sure you check it out.