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Latino Players Increase Influence on US Baseball


In Tuesday's annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game, nine of the starters are of Hispanic lineage, including six of the starting players on the American League squad. This statistic reflects a rising influence of Latino players in the Major Leagues.

This year's American League starters include six Latino players. Among them are Puerto Rican catcher Jorge Posada of the New York Yankees, his countryman, first baseman Carlos Delgado of Toronto, and Dominican-born second baseman Alfonso Soriano of New York.

Also starting for the American League are shortstop Alex Rodriguez of Texas, Dominican Republic outfielder Manny Ramirez of the Boston Red Sox and designated hitter Edgar Martinez of the Seattle Mariners.

Manny Ramirez, last year's American League batting champion, says that making the All-Star team is one of his goals every time he starts the season.

"I look forward to that every year," he said. "That's why every year I work hard and see if I make it. If not, long as I know I am trying my best, then if it happens, it happens. But if not, what else can I do?"

The National League team has three Latino Starters - Puerto Rico native Javy Lopez of the Atlanta Braves at catcher, Colombian-born shortstop Edgar Renteria of the Saint Louis Cardinals, and one of the rising stars of the game - Saint Louis left fielder Albert Pujols of the Dominican Republic.

Pujols, who leads the Major Leagues in batting average as of this writing with an average of 365, says making the All-Star team is awe inspiring.

"It's great to be a starter, to start in the All Star Game," said Albert Pujols. "But, like I say, to be in there with so many guys, you are talking about the best players in the League going to the All Star Game. I mean you are in the same locker room with Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and some of the other future Hall of Famers and great players. I mean you just need to be grateful for that."

The National League pitching staff also includes New York Mets right hander Armando Benitez and Russ Ortiz of the Atlanta Braves.

Writer Tim Wendel has written a book entitled The New Face of Baseball, which chronicles the rise of Latinos in Major League Baseball. He says the rise in the number of Latino players is due to both passion for the game and political changes.

"Number one, it's really played with a passion in a lot of these countries," he said. "It is pretty much the only way off the island, at least that is the case in the Dominican Republic, which is the current hotbed of baseball. Ten percent of the Major League players are Dominican right now. And I think it's interesting that something as tumultuous as the Cuban revolution really helped, in a way, spread baseball throughout the Caribbean and even down to South America. When Fidel Castro took over the island shortly thereafter he declared that baseball was an amateur game and he would not allow his players to leave the island and go up and play in the U.S. Major Leagues. "

Wendel says that the rise in Latino players is in contrast to a drop in the number of African Americans playing baseball. He says that part of the reason is that baseball requires bigger facilities than other games, like basketball.

"I think it's much easier right now for kids to play basketball in the inner cities," said Tim Wendel. "You just need a ball and to find a court. And I think it is interesting that in a sense the baseball infrastructure in the United States has kind of crumbled whereas if you go to Cuba, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, you see kids playing baseball all over the place."

Wendel says the success of Major Leaguers like Albert Pujols and Sammy Sosa has helped fuel the game in their home countries. Sammy Sosa, in particular, has started a foundation to help underprivileged children in his home country, the Dominican Republic. Wendel says that kind of action strengthens the game in Latin America.

"If you want to find a great Latino ball player, you go to whatever town these guys are in - and this goes for Cuba, the Dominican Republic or Venezuela - you ask the kids," he said. "And the kids know where these guys live. And there is much more a tightly-wound thing between the star and the community. And you don't see that here [in the United States] any more and that's unfortunate. Because I think some of the magic of baseball has been lost because of that."

But the magic of baseball has not been lost on Puerto Rico native and New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who says being voted into the All Star game by fans is a great honor.

"There are some guys out there who have got a better average and better numbers than me," said Jorge Posada. "And I am really very happy that the fans have given me the chance to be there and I want to get back there. And you know, I always have a good time there and I want to get back there. And you know, you work hard and it does pay off."

The payoff for Posada and the other Latino players in the All-Star game could be higher this year than in previous years. The winner of this year's All-Star game between the American and National Leagues gets home field advantage in the World Series.