I hate to sound like a cliche, but I’ve never really been into sports. Growing up in Los Angeles, my family would watch the Lakers on T.V. or go to an occasional baseball game at Dodger Stadium, but I wasn’t passionate about it unless there was some sort of personal connection I could relate to.
That personal connection came while watching sports with my dad.
CREDIT: That’s my dad!
My dad will literally watch soccer and boxing all day long. I always enjoyed the social aspect to viewing boxing because we’d always have tons of people come over to our house and chip in for pay-per-view fights. I loved the excitement that the outcome of a fight would bring — especially when we’d do a quiniela and someone would win lots of cash.
Sure, sports are a fun social event, but there was still a disconnect between me and the actual sport.
However, when it comes to family, my parents taught me that we’d always have to support each other and be each other’s biggest cheerleader, whether it is sports, music, or whatever.
That is why I actually believed that Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela was related to me.
A post shared by Jessie Caldera'Valenzuela (@jessie_caldera_valenzuela) on
I know that sounds ridiculous, but because my dad never really cared for baseball all that much, it was strange to me that he got so excited when Valenzuela was on the field. But in the ’80s, “Fernandomania” spread throughout Los Angeles, especially in the Mexican community, which was proud to see one of its own perform so well on such a big stage. Also, Valenzuela looked like us! So I assumed, as a kid, that we were related. I believe that is where my love-hate relationship with baseball first began.
I rarely saw any Latinos in baseball as a kid, and it was difficult for me to understand the power of the game without feeling that personal connection the sport. I came to see baseball as a “white sport” and really disregarded it.
My heart and mind began to understand baseball on a different level, and that’s mainly because two people: My husband and late Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez.
CREDIT: Aaron Belz/Instagram @miamifitclub
My husband, Aaron, adores the St. Louis Cardinals on a level that is insane but also very cute. Yet still, I wasn’t going to allow my husband’s passion for baseball take over my life. I didn’t understand the game and still viewed it as an “American” sport. But he had patience with me. He began to tell me about the countless Latinos who were currently playing in Major League Baseball — more than 25 percent. I was floored.
The other man that changed baseball for me was Jose Fernandez, the Miami Marlins pitcher who tragically died in a boating accident last year. His story about how he and his mother fought to come to America from Cuba despite being rejected numerous times really struck a chord with me.
So many other Latino baseball players have similar stories of perseverance. They worked hard, despite all odds, to make something of themselves. It reminds me of my parents.
CREDIT: Facebook/The Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame
Not only are these Latino baseball players incredible athletes, but they have huge hearts and have a drive to give back to their community.
I have so much respect for players such as St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who not only do great charity work but also are passionate about their culture.
A post shared by Yadier Molina (@yadier_marciano_molina) on
I had a blast watching the 2017 World Baseball Classic because so many players represented the country where they come from. It was so moving to see them play with such passion because they wanted to make their people proud.
But now that the MLB has begun, I am so excited to be truly engaged in the game for the first time ever.
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Now when I watch the Cardinals play, you bet your ass I am cheering on Molina and third basemen Jhonny Peralta, and pitcher Carlos Martinez, but also infielder Matt Carpenter and pitcher Seung-hwan Oh.
I’ve come to learn about all of their stories and now understand that baseball is not just an “American thing.” And it’s not just a Latino thing. It’s a team thing. It’s about sportsmanship and the history of the game, which includes players from all over the world. It’s not a “white sport” like I believed. It’s truly a sport that unites us all.
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