Rays field MLB's first all-Latino lineup on Clemente Day

September 16th, 2022

TORONTO -- Manager Kevin Cash didn’t realize until about halfway through the Rays’ 11-0 win over the Blue Jays that he’d made history with the lineup he wrote out Thursday afternoon. Third baseman Yandy Díaz didn’t think anything of it when he scanned the lineup card, either, perhaps because he stopped reading when he saw his name in the leadoff spot.

And it didn’t hit catcher René Pinto until after the last out was recorded, when he was asked to pose for a picture on the field at Rogers Centre alongside the other eight position players who started for Tampa Bay, all of them hailing from Latin American countries and all of them wearing gray No. 21 jerseys on Roberto Clemente Day.

It was a fitting occasion for a historic moment, the first all-Latino starting lineup in Major League history on the day MLB celebrates the first Latin American player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Rays’ lineup included players from Cuba (Díaz and Randy Arozarena), the Dominican Republic (Wander Franco, Manuel Margot and Jose Siri), Colombia (Harold Ramírez), Venezuela (David Peralta and Pinto) and Mexico (Isaac Paredes). The Rays first noted what the Elias Sports Bureau later confirmed: It was the first time all nine hitters in an MLB lineup were born in a Latin American country.

“That's very good for the team and for every Latin player, and on this day it's more special because it's Roberto Clemente Day,” Ramírez said. “That happened on the right day. Everyone enjoyed it right after the game, because nobody knew.”

“We're very happy, especially on a day like today,” Díaz added through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I think the Latinos are really putting a stamp on the game of baseball.”

The composition of the lineup was actually just a coincidence, even as perfect as the timing of it turned out to be. The Rays wanted to load Thursday’s lineup with right-handed hitters against Toronto’s Kevin Gausman, whose splitter makes him a tough matchup for lefties. They only have two active position players who weren’t born in a Latin American country: switch-hitting infielder Taylor Walls, who replaced Ramírez in the eighth, and lefty-hitting first baseman Ji-Man Choi.

So the lineup was designed to score runs (which it did), not necessarily to make history (which it also did). Now, that lineup card is on its way to Cooperstown, with a spot waiting in the Hall of Fame.

“It's pretty cool. I didn't know that 'til halfway through the game; somebody mentioned it to me,” Cash said. “But it's very surprising, at the same point, just because of the Latino community and the impact they've had on Major League Baseball for so many years -- and extremely fitting to be on Roberto Clemente Day.”

Indeed, the number 21 was seemingly everywhere you looked on the field at Rogers Centre on Thursday afternoon -- and not just up and down the Rays’ starting lineup. Half of Tampa Bay’s roster donned the number that famously belonged to Clemente as part of MLB’s annual Roberto Clemente Day, which honors the life and legacy of the Hall of Fame player and humanitarian. So did Blue Jays players Bo Bichette (their Clemente Award nominee), José Berríos and George Springer and third-base coach Luis Rivera.

A native of Puerto Rico and a trailblazer for all Latino players, Clemente recorded 3,000 hits on the field and tragically died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, while attempting to deliver emergency relief supplies to Nicaragua. Every player and coach on the Rays and Blue Jays wore a No. 21 patch on their sleeves on Thursday.

As part of the league-wide recognition of Roberto Clemente Day, all Clemente Award nominees and previous award winners were able to wear No. 21, as were players of Puerto Rican descent and others who wore the number during last year’s commemoration. Additionally, everyone in Thursday’s Pirates-Mets game in New York wore No. 21.

The Rays requested special permission from MLB to take it a step further, however. Last year, only third-base coach Rodney Linares and Roberto Clemente Award nominees Nelson Cruz and Ryan Yarbrough wore the “21” jerseys. In Spring Training, Linares said, multiple Latin American players asked to join in on the celebration.

“He was a role model to everyone,” Margot said through Navarro. “I think what he did was definitely open the doors for all the Latinos -- what he did for his humanitarian services, what he did off the field and what he did for the community and for the people.”

Thus, 14 Rays players and their two base coaches -- Linares and Chris Prieto -- took the field wearing No. 21 in Thursday’s series finale. That list includes Yarbrough and every Latino player on the roster: Jonathan Aranda, Arozarena, Christian Bethancourt, Díaz, Franco, Javy Guerra, Margot, Francisco Mejía, Paredes, Peralta, Pinto, Ramírez and Siri.

“It’s really, really special,” Linares said before the game. “I think it’s something that we’re really proud of.”

Even more so, considering the Major League history they made in their No. 21 jerseys.

“Thank God that I was able to be a part of something so special like that,” Pinto said through Navarro. “It’s the first time. I'm very grateful and very fortunate that I was able to be a part of it.”