Whether in a Pudge speech or HOF plaque, symbols matter

Symbolism matters — especially among Latinos who sometimes feel that they aren’t fully accepted in the United States.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum prepared a digital representation in Spanish of Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez’s bronze plaque on the day he was formally inducted in Cooperstown — and it speaks volumes, because it signals the Hall’s desire to communicate more fully with Spanish-speaking Latinos and to respect the culture of those who have contributed so much to the game.

Pudge, too, realizes the symbolism of such communication. He prepared his Induction speech in English and Spanish — which was full of stories in both languages — because he wanted his parents José and Eva, his brother José, his wife Patricia and the rest of the family to understand exactly what he was saying.

The first time Pudge switched to Spanish, he started out by honoring his father:

A mi padre, José, mi primer profesor de béisbol, mi mejor amigo. Me enseñaste a respetar el juego, el valor del trabajo, el sacrificio. Fuiste el que me aconsejaste a cambiar de lanzador a receptor. Te agradezco todo papi. Yo estoy aquí mirándote a los ojos, como un Hall of Famer, pero tú eres el Hall of Famer, yo no.

“To my father José, my first baseball teacher, my best friend, you taught me to respect the game, Pudge said. “You taught me about the value of hard work and sacrifice. You were the one who suggested that I switch from pitching to catching. I owe you everything, Dad. I’m here looking at you in your eyes as a Hall of Famer, but you are the Hall of Famer, not me.”

He called his mom, who made sure that he did his homework before playing ball, “Una doble Hall of Famer, “a Hall of Famer two times over.”

Fuiste mi maestra de la vida. Me enseñaste que la disciplina en los estudios valía más o igual que la disciplina en el béisbol. Mami, misión cumplida, tienes un hijo de 45 años aquí en Cooperstown,” Pudge said. “You taught me about life. You taught me that school was as important or even more important than baseball. Mom, mission accomplished. You have a 45-year-old son in Cooperstown.”

And about his older brother José, Pudge added, “Me enseño todo lo que sé de la pelota” — “He taught me all I know about baseball.”

Proud to be Puerto Rican

Later on, Pudge again switched to Spanish to address the Puerto Ricans in the crowd and to pay homage to the Hall of Famers and other players from the small island of 3.5 million inhabitants who preceded him.

“Quiero que levanten las banderas bien alto ahora mismo porque me siento bien orgulloso de ser puertorriqueño y de ser el cuarto Hall of Famer que sale de Puerto Rico” — “I want the flags waving up high because I feel real proud to be Puerto Rican and to be the fourth Hall of Famer to come out of Puerto Rico,” said Pudge as he mentioned the other three inducted boricuasRoberto Clemente Walker, Orlando Cepeda and Roberto Alomar.

Pudge also acknowledged the legacy of Puerto Rican catchers, which harks back to Benito Santiago, who threw out runners from one knee and was the 1987 National League Rookie of the Year.

“Soy parte de esa gran tradición puertorriqueña de receptores” — “I’m part of that great Puerto Rican tradition of catching,” he said, singling out stellar contemporaries such as Sandy Alomar Jr., Javy López and Jorge Posada as well as the Molina brothers: Bengie, José and Yadier. How good are they? All eight backstops, Pudge included, have combined for 41 All-Star selections and 27 Gold Gloves.

Rare and grand moments

These moments are rare as well as grand. It was reminiscent of one of the most iconic speeches in Latino baseball history, after the Pittsburgh Pirates shocked the Baltimore Orioles in seven games to win the 1971 World Series and Clemente was voted the first Latino MVP.

During the post-game locker-room celebration, Clemente pivoted to his family, to his people and his island, and did something many of us have done since we were young and still do to this day:

“Before I say anything here, I would like to say something for Mother and Father in Spanish,” he said in English, before switching languages right then and there, unprecedented in American television.

“En el día más grande de mi vida, para los nenes la bendición mía, y que mis padres me den la bendición en Puerto Rico.”

“On the biggest day of my life, I give my kids their blessing, and to my parents in Puerto Rico, I ask for theirs.”

The Hall of Fame has translated plaques before, including one for Pedro Martínez in 2015. Nonetheless, we say “thank you” to the Hall of Fame, as Latinos everywhere congratulate Pudge on his Induction. This is what La Vida Baseball is all about: sharing our passion, our stories and our culture through the Americas’ game of baseball.

Featured Image: Clemson Smith Muñiz / La Vida Baseball

Inset Image: National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum