Monday, August 31, 2009

Welcome to the Future

Welcome to the Future: Chula Vista California’s Victory In Little League World Series Shows that Barack Obama’s America is Alive and Well

Welcome to Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

Yesterday, I watched the final stages of a sports event which left me profoundly moved and inspired. It was the last game of the Little League World Series, and it was a contest pitting a team from Chula Vista California against a team from Chinese Taipei. The team from Chula Vista won 6-3, thanks to excellent hitting, great defense, and inspired pitching performance by a very talented athlete named Kiko Garcia.

But what moved me was not just the quality of the baseball, but the spirit and energy of the team from Chula Vista, which reminded me of a great team my son Eric played on when he was 19 years old, the senior team from the legendary Youth Service organization in Brooklyn.

The Chula Vista team, like its older Youth Service counterpar, was a predominantly Latino team, with a handful of black and white players, led by an all Latino coaching staff and followed by a group of Latino parents whose enthusiasm and love of the game energized everyone around them

Teams like this exist all over the country; but this was the first time in the 50 year history of the Little League World Series that a Latino led team from the US won the
Tournament and was crowned world champion. This victory also erases the scandal associated with the last US Latino team to make it to the final round of the World Series, the Rolando Paulino Little League team from the Bronx, whose star pitcher, Danny Almonte, was exposed as several years over age.

There is not a whiff of scandal associated with the Chula Vista team, which has become a wonderful representative of the growing presence of US Latinos in sandlot, high school and college baseball in the United States

This is something I had an opportunity to witness first hand during my fifteen years of coaching youth baseball in Brooklyn, and during the additional years I spend following
my son Eric’s high school and college teams.

It is no exaggeration to say, using the category of sociologist Roger Waldinger, youth baseball has become a US Latino “ethnic niche.”

All over the Uni ted States, from Bridgeport, to the Bronx, to San Antonio, to San Diego, US born Latinos, and the children of Latino immigrants are infusing youth baseball with an energy, skill and artistry that is reminiscent of what African Americans once brought to the game of basketball. Baseball is the national game in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and a strong rival to soccer in Mexico and Venezuela, and ethnic enclaves from those nations in the US have nurtured an incredible grass roots baseball tradition. When my son was playing high school baseball in NY in the late 90’s, over eighty percent of the All City Players were of Latino ancestry, and it was well known if you wanted to hone your skills enough to play college or professional baseball, you had to join a predominantly Latino organization. Youth Service Team in Brooklyn, which produced players like Shawon Dunstan, Manny Ramirez, and Julio Lugo, was the premier example of such an organization, and my son was fortunate enough to spend two years on its teams and have an experience which expanded his cultural horizons as much as it improved his baseball skills. Our whole family still remembers the Youth Service infield practices, which featured dazzling fielding drills that left spectators from Toronto,
to Bethesda Maryland,, to State College, Pennsylvania utterly mesmerized. In the four years my son pitched in college, he never had an infield remotely comparable to the ones he had those summers.

The team from Chula Vista had that same level of precision, skill and artistry that I saw among Eric’s teammates, instilled by coaches who loved the game and loved imparting skills to young players. Every player in their line up whether they were 5.0”
Or 6’2”, whether they were batting third or batting ninth, could hit for average and hit for power.; and their fielding and pitching was equally outstanding. To use a phrase that Nelson George once applied to African Americans in basketball, these youngsters “elevated the game,” showing skills rarely encountered among players their age

But as impressed as I was by what happened on the field, I was almost impressed by what I saw in the stands. The Chula Vista parents were a cross section of a new, multiracial America that put Barack Obama in office. Not only were Black and white parents an integral part of a majority Latinot rooting section, but several of the key players, including their team’s superstar, Kiko Garcia, were clearly products of interracial/intercultural marriages.

What you had here was a team and organization and a community which blended the best of Latino and American traditions, drawing everyone who watched these games, whether in person, or on television, into something which uplifted their spirits and brought them excitement and joy.

As I watched this team march on to a championship, I coiuldn’t help of the Obama haters around the country who imagine the real America as something “White” when it in fact is becoming gloriously multicultural

Chula Vista Little League is a wonderful symbol of that America

To quote from country singer- and Obama supporter- Brad Paisley in a song that was chosen as the anthem for his years World Series “Welcome to the Future”

Mark Naison
August 30,2009

2 comments:

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