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Diversity addressed in Latinos in Baseball panel

MLB.com @JesseSanchezMLB

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Chicago Cubs' World Series victory parade was winding through downtown and the party at Grant Park was about to start.

The stage was in sight when Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein leaned over to Louie Eljaua, put his arm around him, and thanked him.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Chicago Cubs' World Series victory parade was winding through downtown and the party at Grant Park was about to start.

The stage was in sight when Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein leaned over to Louie Eljaua, put his arm around him, and thanked him.

"He says, 'This wouldn't have happened without you and your staff's effort,'" said Eljaua, a special assistant to the general manager with the Cubs whose duties also include overseeing the international market. "Some of the guys we had signed were traded for pieces that were able to fill voids on that championship team, like Gleyber Torres going to the Yankees is the key piece to the Aroldis Chapman deal and our scouts in Venezuela identifying Hector Rondon as a Rule 5 [Draft] pick. Jeferson Mejia being traded to Arizona for Miguel Montero. That was a special moment."

On Monday morning, Eljaua was part of a Latinos in Baseball panel that included Royals assistant general manager Rene Francisco, Cardinals assistant GM Moises Rodriguez and Phillies special assistant to the GM Jorge Velandia. They discussed their experiences in baseball, Latino contributions to the sport and Latino representation in the leadership roles across the game.

"Diversity and inclusion continues to remain a priority for the Office of the Commissioner, coming from [Robert] Manfred on down," said MLB vice president of diversity and inclusion Renee Tirado. "We need to continue to have these conversations. These events give us a platform to educate the population about what it means to be in baseball and how to get involved in baseball, the steps you have to take and most importantly, the network."

In October, Major League Baseball announced the launch of its MLB Diversity Fellowship Program designed to widen the talent pool of future industry leaders. Last year, Tyrone Brooks was hired as MLB's first senior director of front office and field staff for the Diversity Pipeline Program.

"This will remain a priority for us," Tirado said. "Across the board for us, this is about our business. We are not here to make people feel good. ... We need those people in the game because they drive our business. They help us connect with audiences. They give us the insight on how to make us grow and legitimately be global. You cannot do that with a homogeneous group."

There are several Latinos in prominent special assistant and international executive roles in front offices across the league; however, Detroit's Al Avila is the only Latino general manager in baseball. There are three Latino managers in the game: Rick Renteria of the White Sox, Alex Cora of the Red Sox and Dave Martinez of the Nationals.

During the hour-long session, the executives spoke about their first job in baseball, their current positions and the mentors that helped them along the way. They offered ideas, like more pipelines for diverse candidates at entry-level positions on and off the field. They stressed the need for more opportunities.

"Without opportunity, you never are going to grow it and never going to develop diversity," Rodriguez said. "I think the more fellowship and entry-level programs that you make available, the more you can target diverse candidates. You can talk about where they are once they get into the pipeline, but without the opportunities and positions to seek, it's not going to go anywhere."

Velandia stressed the importance of perseverance and being confident.

"Everybody has talent," he said. "Believe in your ability. Believe in your destiny. You control your own destiny. Baseball is such a great sport because you learn how to fail; it's such a failure sport. We get back up all the time. We got to start here, search your destiny, go north, there's going to be some ups and downs, whatever you like, where you want to go, believe it."

Tirado knows there is room for improvement. The Latinos in Baseball panel is one of many steps.

"There is no set number. We are not looking for a quota," she said. "We are looking for substance. We are looking for intelligence and creativity, and you only really get that when you bring more people from different backgrounds in. This is America's pastime, but we are trying to become a global sport and a global phenomenon."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.