Clemente’s Legacy: Javy Báez helping Los Magos in Chicago
While the major league baseball season is played in the continental U.S., Puerto Rico is still trying to recover from a catastrophic hurricane season that now has an estimated death toll of nearly 3,000.
Chicago is a city known for its rich Puerto Rican culture. On the north side where a majority of the Windy City’s Boricuas live, Javy “El Mago” Báez is putting together a brilliant season on the diamond. Off the field he is trying to help his people when they need it the most.
Báez established a Los Magos program, which played host to three separate community organizations with the support of the Chicago Cubs Charities and the team’s community affairs department. The All-Star second baseman arrived at spring training fresh from a trip to his native Puerto Rico, where he had spent time helping and visiting hospitals as part of his effort to help his homeland.
As the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria approaches, La Vida Baseball will highlight the way today’s Puerto Rican ballplayers lived up to the saintly Clemente’s legacy in helping lift their island during the recovery process by giving their fellow Boricuas something to cheer about with their play on the field and, more importantly, by their efforts back home.
Báez wanted to do more, so he asked the Cubs how they could help in Chicago. That’s how the idea for Los Magos was born.
“We tried to find ways to marry opportunity to something that was so close to Javy’s heart, and that was the genesis of Los Magos,” said Keri Blackwell, the assistant director, community affairs and Cubs Charities.
“At Cubs Charities and Community Affairs we try to tap to what is important to our players where we can and what makes sense for our own mission and for our city, and Los Magos is a perfect fit.”
It is estimated that nearly 2,000 Puerto Ricans have made their way to the Chicagoland area after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island. Many of them are within the city of Chicago, which already has one of the largest Puerto Rican populations in the U.S.
“We know the tough situation Puerto Rico is currently in,” Báez said. “I want to motivate my Puerto Rican people that no matter the situation in which they are in it is important to move forward. We know that Puerto Ricans are strong enough, and we are going to move pa’lante.”
Moving forward with Los Magos is what Báez and the Cubs by reaching out to community groups within their network that they knew were servicing relocated Puerto Ricans.
They worked with the Northwest Side Housing Center, The Puerto Rican Agenda and the United Methodist Church. They set up three game dates to play host parties of about 20 people from each group. The groups attended the Cubs’ games April 26, May 23 and June 6.
The Northwest Side Housing Center group attended the second game in late May in a rematch of the 2016 World Series against the Indians, who are led by Puerto Rican superstar Francisco Lindor.
Vanessa Valentin of Northwest Side Housing Center called it Christmas in July for her group. The group knew they were going to a Cubs game, but they never imagined that they’d have the opportunity to meet El Mago himself. Báez surprised them in the dugout.
“What a surprise,” Valentin said. “There was tears and it really motivated the families. The moms were so excited. Javy talked to us like we were his best friends. We don’t have any words to express how grateful we are for that experience.”
“To top it off we got to see Francisco Lindor as well. Two dreams come true in one day. Two very talented Puerto Rican young men inspiring our people.”
In a time when the latest news to come from Puerto Rico is gloomy on the slow recovery of the island and the significant number of reported deaths, Báez’s run at the National League Most Valuable Player has been a bright light for fellow Boricuas.
His play has provided reason to cheer, and the visits with Los Magos have also been inspirations.
“Very motivational to hear Javy’s humility and his love for Puerto Rico. It was a dream come true for our families,” Valentin said. “Javy is doing many great things, and what he did for their lives was very big. He showed his love for baseball and how important it is to be a humanitarian and give back.”
Giving back is something Puerto Rican peloteros know about, considering the Great One Roberto Clemente is synonymous with humanitarianism. Báez understands the responsibility he and his fellow Boricua ball players have to their fans in this time of need.
“For us as Latinos and Puerto Ricans it’s truly and honor to represent our people on the diamond,” he said. “Most Puerto Rican ball players went back to the island, and we know that people are crazy about us as players. They dedicate so much time following us and are behind us along the way.
“After the World Baseball Classic, we were able to bring some pride and it was very big for Puerto Rico and in the situation we are currently in we know everything we do on the field is even bigger for them.”
Featured Image: David Banks / Getty Images Sport