A group of immigrant teens finds identity, pride in baseball

The Arizona Republic
Sept. 16, 2005



Look at those faces. First-generation Latinos, the children of immigrants. Playing baseball. In one of the most densely populated parts of the Valley, Maryvale, on the west side of Phoenix. On a field described as "riddled with gopher holes."

Hard to believe, but history is repeating itself.

America in the 21st century, a suburban, affluent nation, a service, knowledge and consumer economy, is a far different country from the one where baseball was king.

Baseball has been losing popularity in the United States for decades. In the 1950s, I didn't know many kids who didn't play baseball on the sandlots. Today, most youngsters give it up at age 10 - if they ever start. They'd rather play soccer, video games or skateboard.

Baseball, of course, represents America as it used to be.

In the 1880s, when baseball became popular, we were transforming into an urban society, a manufacturing economy, where neighborhoods in close apartments, row houses and tenements surrounded factories and mines.

A nation of immigrants in large cities and coal-mining and steel towns.

Baseball was ideally suited to that nation: A leisure activity that lots of people of all ages could play and watch at the same time. And practice by yourself. A game that you didn't have to know English to play.

Is it any wonder then that so many baseball players came from the immigrant ranks?

The story of Lou Gehrig, the pride of the Yankees, is the most well known. But other names soon emerged: Medwick, Greenberg, Lazzeri, DiMaggio, Musial.

In no small sense, the teenagers who play for Holiday Park follow that tradition. Their names are Carrizoza, Parra, Chavez and Galaviz. They play in beat-up tennis shoes on lumpy infields where ground balls take funny hops.

And last month, they returned from Beaverton, Ore., where they captured third place at the Western Region Senior Little League tournament.

Baseball unifies them, ties them to their new home, gives them something to dedicate themselves to and gives them pride.

Just as it did more than a century ago, for other people with strange sounding names. Like Rizzuto, Garagiola and Lopata.

Richard de Uriarte is an editorial writer. Reach him at richard.deuriarte@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8912.