By Mirelsie Velazqúez
First, a confession: I am a baseball apologist. I love baseball and I love my Cubs.
When I accepted a position to be a professor at the University of Oklahoma in 2014 and planned my move, there were two things I was hoping to find in my new home: 1. A Latina/o community I could feel a part of and would provide me with fresh tortillas. 2. A sports team I could rally behind.
Both presented challenges to making Oklahoma feel like home. After all, as a family one of the last thing we did in Chicago before moving to Oklahoma was say a tearful “see you later” to Wrigley Field.
Home is My Cubs and Good Tortillas
Although Oklahoma City has a growing and vibrant Latina/o community that I have enjoyed learning about from students and their families, I still have family and friends bring me tortillas from Chicago when they visit (I can’t replace El Milagro!).
Now, as someone who grew up with two older brothers who instilled a love and over-the-top passion for professional sports, and a mother who took me to my first Chicago Cubs game in the early 1980s when we move to the city from Puerto Rico, I needed to find something in sports to sustain me.
Although I teach at a university with a long standing record of collegiate sports success, and I have been known to cheer on women’s and men’s gymnastics on a weekend afternoon, college sports have never been for me. And as a life-long Chicago Cubs fan, a winning team is not necessarily what I need to cling to. Besides, I don’t think I have ever worn a shirt or cap for a team from anywhere but that 606 zip code. But still, I missed cheering on a team, and sitting on the stands. With basketball not high on my list, the Oklahoma City Thunder have not always caught my eye, although truth be told I’m excited about their current lineup since it’s nice to have a Puerto Rican player on the team.
But in settling in Oklahoma, we missed looking out on to a baseball field on a summer evening, yelling in Spanish to the Latino players, and hoping to catch a ball in the stands. We missed baseball.
OKC: Where the Dodgers Farmhands Roam
Hearing great things about a ballpark in the middle of Oklahoma City’s Bricktown district, my daughters and I decided to look up the schedule and see when the OKC Dodgers would be playing the Iowa Cubs.
We had never attended a minor league game, and were unsure of what to expect, although my younger daughter had been following a few of the players in the hopes that they would be called up soon to Chicago (something she correctly predicted with two Latino players). As soon as we pulled up to the park, we recognized the feeling of excitement, anticipation, and nostalgia, happily taking our seats behind the visiting team dugout. We felt at home.
Now, the Iowa Cubs was what got us there, but what would keep us coming? What will bring back this Puerto Rican mom, and her two Mexi-Rican baseball-loving daughters to the park?
Little did I know this was a question on the minds of minor-league organizations across the country who were looking to transfer some of the life-long and generational love and passion Latino fans had for their major league players and teams to the minors. After all, especially for Latinos, the minor leagues are were many of our favorite players experience America’s pastime for the first time.
When a dear friend and colleague recently invited me to attend an event in Oklahoma City for Latino business leaders hosted by the Oklahoma City Dodgers I jumped at the opportunity.
I have to be honest, I signed up for the chance to socialize and to get another look at the beautiful ballpark. However, as soon as we arrived, we were greeted by team leaders, warm food, and cold drinks. We were there, to my surprise, for a first look at the new team logo that was part of the Copa de la Diversión, and to try out Latin American inspired food and drinks that would become part of the series of games between the Oklahoma City Cielo Azul team and other Copa participants. (Between the San Antonio Chanclas or the Inland Empire Cucuys, I’m not sure who I fear more.)
Oklahoma City Dodgers president Michael Byrnes and his team staff wanted feedback. We were asked to rate the food (I’m still thinking about those chorizo burgers!), drinks, music, and advice on potential activities. I think the organization got a little more than they bargained for in inviting my friend and I. As a lifelong baseball fan who also engages with work within the Latina/o community, I had a few suggestions. Thankfully, advice and suggestions were exactly what the group was looking for. And for me, a team I can stand behind and cheer during the long Oklahoma summer, is what I was looking for. That day Cielo Azul gained a fan.
I was impressed with the time, resources, and effort of the organization in merging their vision for the team’s participation in la Copa to who the community that they hope to bring into the ballpark is.
The Oklahoma City Latino community is a mixture of families that have been in the city since statehood, to newcomers. They have come as immigrants looking for a fresh start and better lives, to military personnel, to young people attending one of the many colleges in the area.
This is also the new home to the many players who are or hope to become part of the Dodgers family. We are their new neighbors and family, the people who can help make this feel like home to them, both while sitting in the stands or while shopping at the Latino-owned grocery store or panaderia. Our love for baseball comes from our love for familia and community.
Cielo Azul/Oklahoma City Dodgers is finally looking to be part our community. I know this Latina already has a copy of the team schedule on her nevera (refrigerator).
But keeping this Latina fan in the stands will have to be about more than just chorizo burgers, mojitos, and some Daddy Yankee playing in the loudspeakers. It is about coming to us where we live, work, and play. It is about creating a permanent space or feeling of belonging that remembers that we have always been fans, our players have always been part of this game, and our support is more than just a campaign. But in speaking with representatives of the organization, I think this is a good start. And for the first time in my life, I will have another baseball hat hanging next to my old Cubs hat.
Featured Image: OKC Dodgers Instagram
Inset Images: OKC Dodgers