¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues Part 5: Baseball Today and Tomorrow

¡Pleibol! shares the experiences of Latinas and Latinos whose love for the game and incredible talent have changed baseball and transformed American culture forever.

By Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Family enjoys an Arizona Diamondbacks game (2015) by Jennifer Stewart PhotographySmithsonian's National Museum of American History

¡Pleibol! #5

This five-part series takes audiences on a journey into the heart of American baseball to understand how generations of Latinas/os have helped make the game what it is today.

Anthony Rendon's baseball cards (1995/2021) by VariousSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Baseball Today and Tomorrow

The present and future of baseball is Latino, both on Major League rosters and in broadcast booths. Latinos are well represented among the game’s stars with players like Francisco Lindor, Anthony Rendon, Javier Báez, and José Altuve leading the way.

Martinez card (1992/1993) by Topps Company, IncSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Players like Pedro Martínez, Mariano Rivera, and Ivan Rodríguez are changing the composition of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Mendoza calling a game in the booth (2019) by Jaclyn NashSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

And more Latino voices are sharing the game, with Jessica Mendoza, David Ortiz, and Alex Rodríguez broadcasting in English and Jaime Jarrín, Amaury Pi-González, and Eduardo Ortega broadcasting in Spanish.

Freddy Rodríguez’s “A-Rod Six of Thirteen" (2007) by Freddy RodríguezSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Dominicans Dominate MLB

As Cuban professional baseball was shutting down after the Cuban Revolution in the late 1950s, Major League Baseball began ramping up scouting efforts in the Dominican Republic. Baseball had already been an important pastime and major sport in the Dominican Republic since its introduction in the 1880s.

Today, the country is still a key market for the Major Leagues. Over more than three decades, baseball academies for young Dominican players have sprung up all over the island, creating a system of exploitation as well as opportunity.

Jesus Alou (1963/1968) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

From the Alou brothers in the 1960s...

Martinez card (1992/1993) by Topps Company, IncSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

...to the Boston Red Sox’s Dominican trio of Pedro Martínez, David Ortiz...

Ramirez card.jpg (1992) by Topps Company, Inc.Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

...and Manny Ramírez...

Sosa card (1989/1991) by Topps Company, Inc.Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

...Dominicans have transformed Major League Baseball through their performance...

Rico Carty's Braves Baseball Card (1964) by Topps Company, Inc.Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

...style...

Virgil (1956/1957) by The Topps Company, Inc.Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

...and personalities.

Dominican Baseball Card (1960/2021) by The Topps Company, Inc.Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Baseball cards from notable Dominican players
- Ronald S. Korda Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Pedro Martínez’s New York Mets game-worn jersey (2005/2008) by Majestic Athletic, Ltd.Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Pedro Martínez came a long way from his one-room home in Manoguayabo, Dominican Republic. A 97-mph fastball, paralyzing change-ups, and precision pitches made Martínez a force on the mound. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.

Pedro Martínez’s New York Mets game-worn jersey, 2005–2008 
- National Museum of American History 

View object record

Freddy Rodríguez’s “A-Rod Six of Thirteen" (2007) by Freddy RodríguezSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

In 2007 Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez of the New York Yankees signed the largest contract in Major League Baseball history at the time: $275 million. The gold background represents Rodriguez’s status as one of the highest paid baseball players of all time.

Freddy Rodríguez’s “A-Rod Six of Thirteen,” 2007
- National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution © 2007 Freddy Rodríguez

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Freddy Rodríguez’s “I’m Big Papi" (2008) by Freddy RodríguezSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

David “Big Papi” Ortiz spent most of his 20-year career with the Boston Red Sox. He quickly became the “heart” of the team, helping them win the 2004 World Series after an 86-year drought.

Freddy Rodríguez’s “I’m Big Papi,” 2008
- National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution © 2008 Freddy Rodríguez

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Mendoza calling a game in the booth (2019) by Jaclyn NashSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Hometown Heroes

Baseball games gather families, neighbors, and friends to foster support networks and community ties. Hometown team traditions have been particularly strong in areas with large Latino communities. The experiences of Major League Baseball star Anthony Rendon and broadcaster Jessica Mendoza resonate as stories of sacrifice and success.

Anthony Rendon's baseball cards (1995/2021) by VariousSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Their families and communities supported them along their paths. Though different, Rendon and Mendoza demonstrate what it means to be hometown heroes.Players and journalists build connections between baseball in the barrios and the big leagues, and between Latino players and  and fans. These barrier-breakers embody the passion and history that connects Latinas/os and America’s game.

Anthony Rendon’s YMCA baseball card (1995) by YMCASmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Anthony Rendon

Anthony Rendon’s story is one to which many aspiring athletes can relate. Born to a Mexican American, mixed-race family of modest means in Houston, Texas, Rendon honed his talents over many years. He is one of many Latino hometown heroes who inspire the next generation.

Anthony Rendon’s YMCA baseball card
Rendon’s first baseball team sparked his drive to challenge himself to be better.
- Gift of Rene and Bridget Rendon

View object record

Rendon baseball card (2013/2019) by Panini America, Inc.Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

The Washington Nationals drafted Anthony Rendon sixth overall in the first round of the 2011 Amateur Draft.

Washington Nationals baseball card, 2011
- Gift of Anthony Rendon

View object record

Mendoza calling a game in the booth (2019) by Jaclyn NashSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Jessica Mendoza

In August 2015 Mendoza, from Camarillo, California, became the first woman to serve as commentator for Major League Baseball on ESPN. Later that year she became the first woman in MLB history to call a post-season game. From Clemente to Alvarado to Mendoza, Latinas/os are part of critical changes to the sport and often endured discrimination as they served as icons for others.

Jessica Mendoza in the ESPN broadcast booth, Nationals Stadium, Washington, D.C., 2019
- National Museum of American History, photograph by Jaclyn Nash

Jessica Mendoza’s World Series ESPN media credentials (2015) by ESPNSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Jessica Mendoza has called games for the College World Series and Major League Baseball.

Jessica Mendoza’s ESPN media credentials, 2015
- Gift of Jessica Mendoza

View object record

Softball player Jessica Mendoza's Olympic ring (2004) by International Olympic CommitteeSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Softball player Jessica Mendoza's Olympic ring, Athens, Greece, 2004
- Courtesy of Jessica Mendoza

Family enjoys an Arizona Diamondbacks game (2015) by Jennifer Stewart PhotographySmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Fans in the Stands and Beyond

Like legendary players Roberto Clemente, Luis Tiant Jr., and Fernando Valenzuela did in the past, contemporary Latino stars Nolan Arenado, Javier Báez, Francisco Lindor, and others excite and inspire fans. They thrill fans with their ability to hit a home run, strike out an opponent, or make a big defensive play.

Family enjoys an Arizona Diamondbacks game, Phoenix, Arizona, 2015
- Courtesy of Diamondbacks Baseball, Jennifer Stewart Photography

Francisco Lindor with Nicholas Mariani and family (2018) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

The joy and charisma they emit while engaging with their teammates, the media, and the public makes them even bigger fan favorites. And it’s not just in-game performance that gains them admirers; charitable work in their communities also contributes to their legendary status.

Twelve-year-old Nicholas Mariani from Cleveland, Ohio, found inspiration in Puerto Rican shortstop Francisco Lindor, his favorite player on the Cleveland Indians. As a seventh grader, he drew a charcoal portrait of Lindor that impressed his art instructor, parents, and even “Mr. Smile” himself.

Francisco Lindor with Nicholas Mariani and family, 2018
Francisco Lindor (center) with Nicholas Mariani (second from right) and Mariani’s parents and brother.
- Courtesy of the Mariani Family

Portrait of Francisco Lindor (2017) by Nicholas MarianiSmithsonian's National Museum of American History


Nicholas Mariani’s portrait of Francisco Lindor, 2017
Mariani drew this portrait of Francisco Lindor during art classes held at the Baseball Heritage Museum in Cleveland.
- Gift of the Mariani Family

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Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium (2015) by Angels photographerSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Fans express admiration for their favorite ballplayers and teams in many ways. They attend games, wear replica jerseys, and collect baseball cards and other memorabilia. They follow teams on television, listen on the radio, and emulate favorite players on little league and and amateur fields.


Los Angeles Angels fans wear sombreros at Angel Stadium on Cinco de Mayo, Anaheim, California, 2015


- Courtesy of Angels Baseball

Cowbell used to support local baseball team (1940s-1950s) by The Nuñez familySmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Sounds of the Game

Fans celebrate in a multitude of ways. One way is using musical instruments that symbolize shared cultural heritage with their favorite players. Walk-up songs, maracas, and Spanish chants in the stands are the rhapsody of baseball and leave a mark on how we hear the game.


Cowbell, 1940s–1950s
The Nuñez family of Miami rang this handmade cowbell at minor league games in Cuba, New York, and Florida.
- Gift of Milton Torres

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Güira (Early 2000s) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Güira, early 2000s
Güiras (metal scrapers used for percussion), can be heard at games across the country.
- Gift of Milton Torres

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pleibol_jerseys (2021) by Robin MoreySmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Styles of the Game

Custom uniforms reflect cultural pride and signal Latino presence and excellence in baseball, America’s pastime. 

Jerseys declare participation on a team, allowing players and fans to feel connected to something bigger than themselves.

From California to Wisconsin, Pennsylvania to Kentucky, and Texas to Illinois, minor league and independent league jerseys proclaim Latino heritage and love for the game.

Kansas City Aztecas jersey (1979-1980 season) by UnkownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

The Aztecas name illustrates the significance of Indigenous heritage to Mexican identity.

Kansas City Aztecas jersey, Kansas and Missouri, 1979–1980 seasons
- Gift of John David Ortega

View object record

Los Boricuas jersey (1997) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Indigenous Puerto Rican pride is reflected in the Los Boricuas name and the team’s mascot...

...the native coquí frog whose calls are heard across the island.

Los Boricuas jersey, Chicago, Illinois, 1997
- Gift of José Jusino

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Sandlot baseball game (1970/1990) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Community Driven

¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues is made possible through close collaborations with communities in 14 states; Washington, D.C.; and Puerto Rico to help bring visibility to Latina/o histories through baseball. 

In a series of collecting and preservation events over four years (2015–2018), communities shared stories, pictures, and artifacts. Generations of Latinas/os remembered why baseball was such an important part of their families’ lives and how it brought them all together then—and continues to bring people together in games, events, and exhibitions now.

Artifact and Story Collecting Map (2021) by Smithsonian InstitutionSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Mapping Our Stories

From 2015 to 2018, Smithsonian curators co-hosted events, collected over 150 new artifacts and 10 oral histories, and collaborated with partners across the country to document and preserve baseball stories at the heart of Latino communities.

Learning Lab (2021) by Darren MilliganSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Learning Lab

The following educational resources are thinking routines from Project Zero. All thinking routines can be used by any grade level with the appropriate scaffolding. The thinking routines and images can be combined as you see fit. 

As you go through this Learning Lab, make sure to click on the notebook and pin icons to view in English and Spanish as well as learn more from some highlighted information.

Pleibol Exhibit (2021) by Smithsonian PhotographerSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

About

This story is based on an exhibition that opened at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in July 2021. Objects pictured here may differ from those currently on view at the museum.

Credits: Story

This series of five stories is based on an exhibition that opened at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in July 2021. Objects pictured here may differ from those currently on view at the museum.

This exhibition received generous support from the Cordoba Corporation and Linda Alvarado, with federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.

The traveling exhibition was organized by the National Museum of American History in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

Series Production Team
Margaret Salazar-Porzio
Exhibit Curator
Cultural and Community Life
National Museum of American History

Robin R. Morey
Curatorial Assistant
Cultural and Community Life
National Museum of American History

Marc Bretzfelder
Emerging Media Producer
Office of the Chief Information Officer

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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