¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues Part 1: Field of Dreams

¡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

Youth baseball team posing (1950) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

¡Pleibol! #1

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.

¡Pleibol! #1

Stickball game (1950s) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Throughout the last century, Latinas and Latinos have used baseball to chase their dreams, challenge prejudice, and build communities.

Whether in the barrios or the big leagues, in rural backyards or barn-storming travel teams, they left a mark on how we see, hear, and play the game.

Greeley Grays game (1963) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Field of Dreams

For over a century in the United States and Latin America, baseball provided a way for Latinos to reach for better futures by making and seizing opportunities.

Playing the sport in local leagues brought freedom from discrimination experienced off the field, opportunities to be recognized for talent on the field, and communities that provided support and shared language. In agriculture and industry, workers used the baseball field as a space to organize for rights and justice.

Pleibol! Freedom on the Field (2017) by Gene T. Chávez, Ed.DSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

During a time of segregation and discrimination—a period when major league baseball’s segregation policy blocked Latinos from participating—Latinos developed community, semiprofessional, and professional baseball leagues of their own.

Baseball often provided a social network and a break from discrimination in the larger world. Wherever they lived, Latinas/os persistently made the baseball diamond their place to play and enjoy their freedoms. Finding freedom on the field, however, was more than a simple march toward acceptance.

Brothers Ernie and Howard Martinez (1963) by Ernie MartinezSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Handmade Equipment

Many Latinas/os made do with what they had on hand to play the game. 

Brothers Ernie and Howard Martinez ready for a game, La Puente, California, 1963
- Courtesy of Ernie Martinez

Matinez restitched baseball glove enlarged (1965) by Ernie MartinezSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

For some families, like the Martinez clan, fabricating their own equipment reflected deep appreciation for the game and afforded them a certain kind of freedom despite meager family finances—they did not have to borrow or save money to purchase new equipment.

Glove restitched with needle and cord, La Puente, California
- Gift of Ernie Martinez

Ernie Martinez restitched this glove three different times so the family could continue to use it.

Martinez Family handmade baseball bat (1978) by Leopoldo MartinezSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Bat handmade by Leopoldo and Howard Martinez, La Puente, California, 1978
- Gift of Howard and Randall Martinez

The “Peace Keeper” bat was so named because whoever held the bat had the final say in any disagreements on the field.

Look Closely

Notice the markings on the bat?  

Young Howard Martinez and his father, Leopoldo, carefully blow-torched darkened patterns on the bat to make a tortoise-shell design.

When it broke, Howard and his brothers hammered and glued it back together again.

Stickball Player in East Harlem (1961) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Stickball

When racism and discrimination barred Latinas/os from joining baseball leagues, they created their own teams. In the early 1900s in East Harlem, New York, primarily Puerto Rican, African American, and Dominican communities responded by creating their own game: stickball.

Stickball players sit on a stoop ready for the next game, East Harlem, New York, 1961
- Courtesy of Stickball Hall of Fame

Spalding stickball ball (1950s) by SpaldingSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Spalding ball, used to play stickball in East Harlem, New York, 1950s
- Gift of Stickball Hall of Fame in honor of Charlie Ballard

Spalding balls were sold at bodegas around East Harlem and The Bronx, New York.

Slugger's Stickball Bat (1978) by Howard MartinezSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Stickball bat, made by Carlos “Charlie” Díaz, East Harlem, New York, 1990s
- Gift of Carlos “Charlie” Díaz

This slugger’s bat, made of a broom handle and bicycle inner tube, was used in leagues in New York, Florida, and Puerto Rico.

Eagles Nest Uniform (1970s) by Chris GonzálezSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Eagles Nest

In Kansas City, the local American Legion post barred Mexican American GIs returning from World War II from joining the veterans’ group. In response, they made their own Post #213, called the Eagles Nest, which included a baseball field.

Eagles uniform from Chris González, Kansas City, Kansas, 1970s
- Gift of Chris González

In 2016, seeing the beloved Eagles Nest baseball field falling into disrepair, Chris González spearheaded a revitalization that served as a testament to the Post #213’s legacy and the power of baseball in a local community.

Pleibol! Freedom on the Field (2017) by Gene T. Chávez, Ed.DSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

The new field regularly hosts fast-pitch softball tournaments and games.

Eagles Nest Field, 2017
Courtesy of Gene T. Chávez, Ed.D

Game Worn Cleats Enlarged (1980s) by Tokyo, JapanSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Game-worn steel cleats, Kansas City, Kansas, 1980s
- Gift of Chris González

A Kansas City Royals equipment manager gave these cleats to Eagles player Chris González. He wore them in every game, even though they were two sizes too small.

Custom Baret bat (2018) by Juan BaretSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Creating a Dream

Juan Baret, a Dominican immigrant, grew up playing baseball within sight of Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, New York. In 2013, after a military career, Baret started his own business producing custom bats. This handcrafted bat honors his military tours in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Afghanistan.

Custom Baret bat, Woodbridge, Virginia, 2018
- Gift of Juan Baret

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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