(Above: pelotero especial Esteban Enrique BellÃ¡n)
It’s Mother’s Day, which means I don’t have a whole lot of time. I have to head over to the other side of the city and drop in on Mom and my grandmother, who turned 99 this year.
So it’s only a quick perusal of Baseball Reference’s always-awesome BR Bullpen Today In Baseball History that allows me to report a notable anniversary. May 9, 1871 is the date Cuban national Esteban Enrique Bellan became the first Hispanic player in major league baseball, taking the infield for the Troy Haymakers of the National Association.
There are two reasons this resonates for me. First, given the recent and sickening Gestapo turn in Arizona, it is always worth remembering that too much of what too many of us think as quintessentially American is simply not, has never been, and never ever will be.
Second, the elder of the ladies I am visiting today was born in Puerto Rico, but did everything she could in her life to obscure that fact once she moved to Chicago. Her entire family, of Catalonian Spanish roots, strove for decades to meet the expectations of the surrounding white culture, suppressing their own language and history thoroughly enough to wipe it out in only a generation.
That this has left me linguistically unequipped today to follow the narratives in Telemundo’s jiggliest programming is no great tragedy, but nonetheless makes me wonder what might have been – personally and nationally – had “Steve” Bellan and all those following who spoke his language on the diamond had more influence on the far greater number who never took the field.