The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has a new exhibition: “¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues/En los barrios y las grandes ligas.” This latest exhibit is based on the history of Latinos in baseball.
Along with highlighting the accomplishments of iconic Latino athletes like Roberto Clemente and Fernando Valenzuela, the exhibit also pays tribute to the women of the sport, including Linda Alvarado. Alvarado became the first Latino owner of a Major League Baseball team (Colorado Rockies) in 1992.
Curator Margaret N. Salazar-Porzio told Smithsonian Magazine that while talking to different Latino communities, she learned that some Latino baseball players built strength in their pitching arm by cutting down sugar beets with machetes. Evidence of some of the stories she heard during the last six years working on the project comes alive in the exhibit. But it’s more than just stories, as there are also artifacts on display, including a baseball bat made from a broom handle and bicycle tube and a handmade ball from Cuba, created out of wrapping tape.
“The community-driven aspect of it is what I’m most proud of,” added Salazar-Porzio. “Over and over again, I would hear these stories about the love of baseball, people’s memories of the game [and] how baseball and softball really helps local communities grapple with racism and discrimination. It was really trying to figure out with them how to talk about this history.”
Examples of discrimination in baseball go back a century. Cuban-born Martín “El Maestro” Dihigo is in the Baseball Hall of Fame and considered by many as one of the game’s greatest players, but he was only allowed to play in the “Negro Leagues” during his career. Baldomero “Mel” Almada from Huatabampo, Mexico, became the first Mexican to play in the Major Leagues when he joined the Boston Red Sox in 1933.
“¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues/En los barrios y las grandes ligas” is currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. A (free) live virtual opening takes place on July 9.