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All-American Sport Sees Gains By Hispanics
By Maria Padilla
August 22, 2001
It was the late, great African-American baseball player Satchel Paige who once cautioned others to be careful looking back because "you never know what might be gaining on you." In recent days, the Apopka Little Leaguers learned the painful meaning of those words.
The middle-class team from Apopka was given a life's lesson from the poverty-stricken "Baby Bronx Bombers," made up of Dominican and Puerto Rican players from New York City. The have-nots from the Bronx had plenty to teach, as their pitcher hurled a perfect 5-0 game against Apopka.
The New York Times called it "perfection from the Bronx," but of course they own bragging rights. The Orlando Sentinel said Apopka didn't have an answer to the Bronx's star pitcher, Danny Almonte, and that implies there's more to the story.
The Apopka Little Leaguers were well-prepared, but who knew they would face such tough competition from the Bronx, of all places. Of the things that could possibly come out of the Bronx, perfection would be way down on the list. This is a poor, blighted and crime-infested area.
Star pitcher Almonte, a recent immigrant from the Dominican Republic, is so self-effacing that he doesn't understand the media fuss over pitching a perfect game. The last time that happened in the Little League World Series was more than 40 years ago, when Mexican Angel Macías pitched his team into the championship.
If Almonte doesn't get it, that's OK. He's only 12. A boy isn't expected to comprehend that, if he continues along this route, he someday may be worth millions, just like his compatriot Sammy Sosa.
But the larger lesson, in the words of Paige, is what Apopka could have done differently. Would it have helped to have Hispanics on the team? It couldn't hurt. And Hispanics probably wouldn't be hard to find. Apopka is about 18 percent Hispanic, and in some pockets of town the Hispanic proportion is even higher.
Hispanics love baseball. It is a passion among those who come from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Mexico, among other places. Little League baseball teams aren't unheard of -- even in places such as the Bronx.
When it comes to sports, baseball is one of the three B's that Hispanics love. The other two are basketball and boxing. And it's no secret that Major League Baseball has been becoming Hispanic for some time.
Puerto Ricans always will love and remember the late Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who died 30 years ago. And the island thumped its chest with pride when Orlando Cepeda recently made it into the Hall of Fame after several setbacks and many tries. Similarly, Sosa of the Chicago Cubs is a hero in the Dominican Republic. "I am the big man in my country," Sosa told Mark McGuire during their home run contest several years ago.
One reason baseball is so popular among Hispanics is that it's cheap, requiring only a baseball and a bat.
Merrill Lynch financed the "Baby Bronx Bombers" with more than $500,000. But for years, many small Hispanic businesses in New York and elsewhere have subsidized Little League teams for a chance to see "their teams" strike gold.
Striking gold in Central Florida should be easy. There is no lack of Hispanic athletic talent in the area. Many Hispanic high school athletes are coming on strong. Surely, Almonte has a twin in Orlando.
Which Central Florida Little League team will be the first to find him?