Major League Baseball’s (MLB) RBI Softball World Series exemplifies the passion and spirit of the game, the hope and love of the people who play the sport.
In today’s world of hate the only color that mattered during Aug. 11 – Aug. 16 event in Minneapolis and St. Paul was the color of the uniform.
It seemed fitting the RBI (Restoring Baseball in Inner cities) softball championship games be held in Minnesota Twins land. Dunning Fields was the perfect venue for the world series championship games; home to baseball great Hall of Famers, David Winfield and Jack Morris; author and Twins RBI coordinator Frank White; legendary coach Billy Peterson whose field bears his name; Paul Molitor, manager of the Twins and Steve Winfield, mentor-coach/chair of the Winfield Academic and Athletic Scholarship Fund.
Borrowing from White’s book title, “They Played for the Love of the game: The Minnesota Negro Baseball League,” it was clear to see these young people’s sheer love of the game. Eight teams from seven states and the commonwealth of Puerto Rico came together in a sisterhood of athleticism. While all teams are noteworthy, this story is about the Taino-Afro-Latino from Puerto Rico.
To quote legendary Tony Oliva, “El juego de pelota era lo unico que teniamos para pasar el tiempo todos juntos en el vecendario de Cuba no avia mas que aser no teniamos nada el juego nos junto. (The game of baseball [and softball] was all we had to pass the time in our Cuban neighborhood there was nothing else to do the game united us.)”
I thought of that, watching the unspoken comradery among the Puerto Rican team as they exited the dugout, stood on the field, huddled together and said their team prayer. I pictured all these girls coming together playing ball amid complete chaos.
I was mesmerized, hypnotized by the imagine of my ancestral Puerto Rico, a country110 miles long by 40 mountain miles wide with two even smaller sister islands, Vieques and Culebras, dependent on big sis, Puerto Rico.
Watching the team out on the field I couldn’t help but imagine their plight all these months since Hurricane Maria. Hospitals and schools uninhabitable; death tolls climbing higher still 11 months after the hurricane hit. Elders, babies, the sick, disabled, disenfranchised leaving their home in vast numbers. I helped transport a few of them who arrived in Minnesota in the middle of one of the coldest winters recorded, to their FIMA temporary housing.
Mainland Puerto Ricans, like myself, have been tortured since the devastating hurricane, watching helpless as the events unfold. Reliving the mass exodus of humanity over and over became so overwhelmed it was throwing me off course on my road to a healthier me.
When my friends at the Winfield Athletic Scholarship Program gave me the heads up that Puerto Rico’s girls’ softball team was headed here, I decided I would welcome “my” jente (people) on behalf of all Minnesotans and proudly cheer the undefeated team to victory.
From the moment they exited the dug-out, the girls’ softball team from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico created an atmosphere of athletic grace. Their lacy bows sticking out from the back of their helmets accentuating that feminine Caribbean flair beneath the cloak of the sweltering uniforms. That special flair that is typical of the island’s pride of the Taino-Afro-Latino roots oozing from their ballet-like slides to the bases; the rhythmic movement of their batting stance to the almost musical tone of their cheering. The Puerto Rican flag proudly displayed on all their equipment and uniforms.
A handful of parents in the stands shouted terms of endearment “No te apures, mija (don’t worry dear)” different from the rousing “keep your eye on the ball.”
Houston won the series, but I’m the one who took home the gold. Prior to the games I was feeling alone, isolated; my own family members dying off quickly propelling me to the top of the family heap, leaving almost no one for me to turn to within my own nucleus realm. I was accepting the fact…that was that.
Then suddenly from pueblos (towns) scattered throughout that little island in the middle of the ocean to my doorstep in St. Paul, special delivery for Carmen Robles. A representation of my ancestors, elders, familia (family), cultura (culture) all brought to me by Major League Baseball through those 15 girls, parents and coaches who, despite circumstances of unsurmountable challenges beyond their control, maintained the normality and persevered through “the love of the game.”