As part of Major League Baseball’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Hall of Famer Pedro Martínez and former Major Leaguer/ESPN analyst Eduardo Pérez headlined a discussion on baseball’s cultural impact on Latinos (and vice-versa) in the United States and abroad.
“Unfiltered: Béisbol Latino” is part of MLB’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion program. The entire conversation was streamed on MLB.com.
Besides Martínez and Pérez, the panel also included Margaret Salazar-Porzio, a curator at The National Museum of American History, and Carla Chalas, the senior coordinator of Major League Baseball player programs. The conversation was moderated by MLB Network’s Robert Flores.
Martínez and Pérez started the conversation by discussing about their love for the game. Martínez, who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, said he felt being a professional baseball player would be a fun way to help his family have a better life. He had more than just fun -- Martínez, a pitcher for the ages, won 219 games and three Cy Young Awards while playing for the Dodgers, Expos, Red Sox, Mets and Phillies.
“It was the best job I could ever get,” Martínez said. “Baseball in our community probably transcends what anybody can think of. … Baseball gives you the opportunity to step into a new life, to stay healthy, to stay exercised.
“There are so many things I could say about baseball. I would probably fall short if I could continue to say how many positive things baseball can bring to you. … By playing baseball, I gave myself the best chance to open the doors, not only for my immediate family, but for others. That was the greatest gift I ever had.”
Pérez comes from a baseball family. His father, Hall of Famer Tony Pérez, raised his family in Puerto Rico. Baseball played a big role in Eduardo's formative years.
“Every time we have a roof over our heads, it’s because of baseball, and it still continues to be because of baseball,” Pérez said. “We are a baseball family. I always knew baseball was fun and I knew it could provide a very good lifestyle and a very continuous lifestyle moving forward, because of what I saw firsthand from my parents and the way they went about it. Family was No. 1. It was important that family was there.”
Chalas grew up in the Dominican Republic and now helps players from that country adjust to the United States. She pointed out all the obstacles and challenges they have to go through when they come to the United States.
“I like getting to know these players and [hearing] their stories,” Chalas said. “To see how they are starting out in their careers and giving everything they have to make this big dream come true of making it to the big leagues, I feel that’s incredible.”
Salazar-Porzio’s new project at the museum is an exhibit called “Play Ball” that focuses on baseball’s presence in Latin culture. The museum highlights the life of Roberto Clemente, who was both a great player and a humanitarian.
Both Pérez and Martínez have observed that current Hispanic players think about life after baseball and how they can branch out in other areas outside of the game. Pérez noticed that those who he was playing with in the 1990s were thinking about the moment.
“Now players are thinking, ‘What I’m going to be after I’m through being a ballplayer? Is it being a coach, being in the front office?' They are preparing themselves, they are educating themselves, not only with the budgeting of their accounts, but most importantly they want to know their lifestyle when it comes to their families,” Pérez said. “It’s not just going out there and play golf. It’s about being productive and how they are going to improve their communities. There is a lot of giving back that we are seeing from players. It makes me proud to see that.”
Martínez said the players are a lot more educated about what they will be facing once they get to the United States.
“When I first came up, … I did not know much about the culture, what to expect,” Martínez said. “It was shocking to me to see what was normal to me in the Dominican Republic was probably totally bad here. For these kids, they are more aware. They are [freer] to express themselves. They are better protected by MLB and the organization.
“With the struggles we have gone through, they have learned how to handle themselves a lot better than we did. The language is really changing the way they walk around. Even though they do have a lot of challenges, especially with social media, that could lead them into trouble a lot more, this generation seems to be more prepared.”