Freedom on the Field

Baseball player running

During a time of segregation and discrimination—a period when major league baseball’s segregation policy blocked Latinos from participating—Latinos developed community, semiprofessional, and professional baseball leagues of their own.

Baseball often provided a social network and a break from discrimination in the larger world. Wherever they lived, Latinas/os persistently made the baseball diamond their place to play and enjoy their freedoms. Finding freedom on the field, however, was more than a simple march toward acceptance.


Handmade Equipment

Many Latinas/os made do with what they had on hand to play the game. For some families, like the Martinez clan, fabricating their own equipment reflected deep appreciation for the game and afforded them a certain kind of freedom despite meager family finances—they did not have to borrow or save money to purchase new equipment.

Brothers Ernie and Howard Martinez ready for a game, La Puente, California, 1963

Brothers Ernie and Howard Martinez ready for a game, La Puente, California, 1963

Courtesy of Ernie Martinez

Glove restitched with needle and cord, La Puente, California, 1965

Ernie Martinez restitched this glove three different times so the family could continue to use it.

Gift of Ernie Martinez

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Bat handmade by Leopoldo and Howard Martinez, La Puente, California, 1978

The “Peace Keeper” bat was so named because whoever held the bat had the final say in any disagreements on the field.

Gift of Howard and Randall Martinez

See Pleibol in 3D! Explore a model of the bat.

Look Closely

Notice the markings on the bat?  

Young Howard Martinez and his father, Leopoldo, carefully blow-torched darkened patterns on the bat to make a tortoise-shell design. When it broke, Howard and his brothers hammered and glued it back together again.


Stickball

When racism and discrimination barred Latinas/os from joining baseball leagues, they created their own teams. In the early 1900s in East Harlem, New York, primarily Puerto Rican, African American, and Dominican communities responded by creating their own game: stickball.

Stickball players sit on a stoop ready for the next game, East Harlem, New York, 1961

Stickball players sit on a stoop ready for the next game, East Harlem, New York, 1961

Courtesy of Stickball Hall of Fame

Spalding ball, used to play stickball in East Harlem, New York, 1950s

Spalding balls were sold at bodegas around East Harlem and The Bronx, New York.

Gift of Stickball Hall of Fame in honor of Charlie Ballard

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See Pleibol in 3D! Explore a model of the ball.

Stickball bat, made by Carlos “Charlie” Díaz, East Harlem, New York, 1990s

This slugger’s bat, made of a broom handle and bicycle inner tube, was used in leagues in New York, Florida, and Puerto Rico.

Gift of Carlos “Charlie” Díaz

See Pleibol in 3D! Explore a model of the bat.


Eagles Nest

In Kansas City, the local American Legion post barred Mexican American GIs returning from World War II from joining the veterans’ group. In response, they made their own Post #213, called the Eagles Nest, which included a baseball field.

In 2016, seeing the beloved Eagles Nest baseball field falling into disrepair, Chris González spearheaded a revitalization that served as a testament to the Post #213’s legacy and the power of baseball in a local community.

Eagles uniform from Chris González, Kansas City, Kansas, 1970s

Gift of Chris González

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Game-worn steel cleats, Kansas City, Kansas, 1980s

A Kansas City Royals equipment manager gave these cleats to Eagles player Chris González. He wore them in every game, even though they were two sizes too small.

Gift of Chris González

Eagles Nest Field, 2017

Eagles Nest Field, 2017

The new field regularly hosts fast-pitch softball tournaments and games.

Courtesy of Gene T. Chávez, Ed.D


Creating a Dream

Juan Baret, a Dominican immigrant, grew up playing baseball within sight of Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, New York. In 2013, after a military career, Baret started his own business producing custom bats. This handcrafted bat honors his military tours in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Afghanistan.

Custom Baret bat, Woodbridge, Virginia, 2018

Gift of Juan Baret

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