¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues Part 2: The Spanish Colonies of Colorado

¡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! #2

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.

Spanish Colony, Greeley, Colorado (1949) by unknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Between the 1920s and 1940s, sugar companies established over 100 segregated agricultural communities across the United States in states like Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska. 

These “Spanish Colonies,” or colonias, were communities of primarily Spanish-speaking laborers and their families who came from the southwestern United States and Mexico.

Work in the sugar beet fields (the primary crop) was arduous—long, sweltering days of backbreaking labor for little pay—but the men of the colonias found recreation and relief in baseball. In Colorado’s sugar beet colonias, laborers often used their skills on the farm to enhance their baseball playing.

Hand-modified sugar beet knife (1940s–1950s) by De La Fuente FamilySmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Handmade Tools

Handmade and modified tools were a hallmark of the agricultural industry throughout the United States. Knives like this took the top off sugar beets before sugar extraction.

Hand-modified sugar beet knife, 1940s–1950s
- Gift of Gabriel and Jody López in honor of Art and Helen De La Fuente

This knife was used and modified by the De La Fuente family in Brush, Colorado.

Greeley Grays catcher’s mask (early 1900s) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

 A catcher’s mask shows how the metalworking skills used to shape knives transferred to the baseball field.

Greeley Grays catcher’s mask, early 1900s
- Gift of Gabriel and Jody López in honor of Abraham “Abe” García and family

This mask was modified and used by many Greeley (Colorado) Grays catchers over the years.

Spanish Colony, Greeley, Colorado (1949) by unknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Greeley, Colorado

The Greeley “Spanish Colony,” established in 1924, was one of 13 in northeastern Colorado. Local baseball teams quickly formed and flourished as part of the Rocky Mountain League. They traveled to neighboring states, Wyoming and Nebraska, to play other colonias.

Spanish Colony, Greeley, Colorado, 1949
- Photo courtesy of Alvin García, Gabriel and Jody López collection

Catcher holding mask (1924) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Players made baseball diamonds by clearing areas in fields used to dump sugar beets for the Great Western Sugar Company.

Catcher holding mask, Greeley, Colorado, 1924
Agricultural and Natural Resources Archive, Colorado State University, Archives and Special Collections

Japanese players from the Taiku and Ault teams (mid-1930s) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

After World War II, some Japanese Americans returned or relocated to rural areas, including the “Spanish Colony” region, and started baseball teams. White teams often wouldn’t play them, but Mexican American teams did. 

After games, players gathered to share meals and swap stories. Lifelong friendships formed between players.

Mexican American and Japanese teams in the "Spanish Colony” region often faced off against each other, even before World War II.

Japanese players from the Taiku and Ault teams, Colorado, mid-1930s
- Courtesy of the Numoto family and the Gabriel and Jody López collection

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

Greeley Grays jersey, Greeley, Colorado, 1963
Gift of Gabriel and Jody López in honor of Richard “Rick” Sullivan and family

This uniform has two Rocky Mountain League championship patches on its sleeves.

Baseball Scorebook (1954) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Look Closely

What do you see when you look at the names on different pages of the scorebook?

Scorebook, Mitchell, Nebraska, 1954
- Gift of Gabriel and Jody López in honor of Conrad Huerta and family

The intersecting lives of Latinas/os, African Americans, Asian Americans, and ethnic White Americans often came into focus on the baseball field. Baseball provided an opportunity to come together.

Community teams in particular often boasted members from varied backgrounds and enjoyed playing games with other communities, crossing racial lines in the United States.

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

Greeley Grays game, Greeley, Colorado, 1963
- Courtesy of the Gabriel and Jody López Collection

Car horns resounded at games as fans cheered for family members and favorite players.

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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