Francisco Cervelli: Social Media MVP

Players, like fans, use social media differently. Some promote business interests, while others don’t post as frequently but make things more personal. Some, like Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, have an absolute blast engaging their fans and making social media part of their persona. Puig may be from Cuba, but he is completely bilingual when it comes to Twitter and Instagram.

For most of the players we’ve covered this year, their social media accounts allow us a deeper glimpse into their personality. And how players engage from one platform to another can be unique as well; many are more active on Instagram than Facebook and Twitter combined.

With the ever-growing popularity of video and instant posting of photos, players are getting their voices heard while sharing more frequently. And, for many, social media is a way to stay connected to family during the long grind of a 162-game season.

As the Digital/Social Media Editor at La Vida Baseball, my job is to not only produce and post content, but to know what’s going on in the world of Latino baseball. In short, to follow individual players and teams throughout the season.

Starting with the World Baseball Classic and running through the All-Star Game and Hall of Fame induction all the way to the seven games of the World Series, the 2017 season provided many incredible moments.

Rangers third baseman Adrián Beltré becoming the first Dominican-born player to 3,000 hits. His countryman and Angels DH Albert Pujols joining the exclusive 600-home run club. Puerto Rican catcher Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez entering Cooperstown. Astros second baseman José Altuve of Venezuela proving that greatness has nothing to do with size. The playoff chase. And the postseason itself, with so many dramatic games and records set. Throughout, the action was amazing.

Off the field, Latino baseball players dealt with political unrest in Venezuela, earthquakes in Mexico and hurricanes in the United States and the Caribbean, leading them to use social media to stay in contact with their families back home and become voices for the voiceless and advocates for aid and relief efforts.

When considering our first annual La Vida Baseball Award for Social Media Follow of the Year, there were many intriguing options. But one player stood out for most of the year.

Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli has in the past taken to his personal social media channels to share his love and passion for the game of baseball as well as for his family and his country. But in 2017, Cervelli was compelled to position the political turmoil back home in Venezuela at the forefront of his social conversation — and get as many eyeballs as possible on a subject that wasn’t receiving much attention from the mainstream media in the United States.

When we launched La Vida Baseball in March of this year, Cervelli was playing in the WBC for Team Italy. I’m not going to lie; it was weird seeing him in an Italian uniform and not representing #ArepaPower. He was born in Valencia, Venezuela, to an Italian father and a Venezuelan mother.

As the season progressed, however, Venezuela plunged into chaos and violence. Three-digit inflation, rampant crime and chronic shortages of food and medicine led a large number of people to protest against the government of President Nicolás Maduro. While the street demonstrations and deaths have subsided, Maduro continues in his attempts to consolidate power and living conditions have not improved.

On May 24, Cervelli wrote a heartfelt letter to the people of Venezuela for The Player’s Tribune, saying “My people are being killed. My country is spinning out of control, our government is not providing for its citizens and is using violence to try and silence dissent … and you want me to keep quiet? You tell me that it’s not my place to speak out? No!”

Not only did Cervelli speak out, but he persuaded his fellow countrymen in Major League Baseball to join his cause.

The day of a game between the Pirates and the Brewers, Cervelli and Milwaukee’s Hernán Pérez recorded a video together. Cervelli and Pérez put out a call to 12 other players from Venezuela, each of whom agreed to participate in the video.

“[Other] players started following suit and posting their own videos,” Cervelli said.

A social media movement was launched.

Videos from Miguel Cabrera and Alcides Escobar on La Vida Baseball’s YouTube channel and from Grégor Blanco on Instagram, among others, soon followed, each one voicing concern for Venezuela and condemning the government. Cabrera went a step further during All-Star Week when he posted an extended series of Instagram Stories in which he spoke about threats to his family and his support for the “resistance.”

Cervelli stands out because he continues to use social media to bring awareness to issues, even those that don’t affect his home country.

On Cervelli’s Instagram account, you’ll see a link to a YouCaring fundraising page for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane María.

Cervelli and teammate Sean Rodríguez, Pirates executive Mike González and third-base coach Joey Cora all flew to Puerto Rico to deliver bottled water and non-perishable food items, baby formula, diapers and wipes to the citizens of Caguas and Cayey. Before the delivery, Cervelli used his Instagram account to let people know where they could drop off items and shared with his followers all the items they received.

While advocating for the issues he’s passionate about on social media, Cervelli also sprinkles in posts about family, the Venezuelan Little League World Series team and precious moments with close friends.

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VENEZUELA. Grande muchachos

A post shared by Francisco Cervelli (@fran_cervelli) on

Cervelli actively uses social media as an advocacy tool. Unlike many professional athletes, he refuses to remain silent. In a year that gave us so many reasons to both celebrate and grieve, La Vida Baseball recognizes Francisco Cervelli as this year’s social media MVP.