Dave Valdez is so excited about the first New England Latino Baseball Series — coming to Jim Rice Field at Roxbury’s Ramsay Park tomorrow night — that he’d rather talk to reporters about it than see his own business make money.
In fact, Valdez turned away a customer looking to take some swings in the batting cages at his Medford baseball academy. He feared the noise would distract attention from his discussion of the series, which pits a team of college baseball all-stars from the Dominican Republic against seven teams from the New England Collegiate Baseball League during a 10-day U.S. trip.
The series kicked off last Sunday with a game against the Pittsfield Dukes in Great Barrington, Mass., and features other Bay State stops in Lynn, Holyoke and Lowell, as well as games in Connecticut where the Dominican all-stars play the Torrington Twisters and the Danbury Westerners. At Jim Rice Field, the Latino ballplayers will play the Yawkey League All-Stars, a team comprised of the best players from the Greater Boston-area league.
Asked about how his squad will fare against the Yawkey League club, Dominican all-star team second baseman Kirk Sencion sounded an optimistic note.
“I feel good about our level of competition and I think the Dominican team will have success,” said Sencion, 29, who played his high school ball in Cambridge and played for a Division II college in New Hampshire.
Organized in January, the New England Latino Baseball Series intends to not only pay tribute to Latino culture and heritage through the game of baseball, but also to give burgeoning Dominican talents an chance to shine on an American stage.
“I am very proud of what the series is doing for Latino baseball players,” said Valdez. “Giving them the opportunity to be seen as professional prospects is something we need more of.”
The idea for the series came about after Hector Piña, owner of the Blue Hill Avenue restaurant Merengue, watched a semi-pro baseball game during a trip to his native Dominican Republic. Piña says he thought that many of the players he watched there, and many Latinos in the U.S. as well, could have made the transition to the major leagues if only they had an opportunity to showcase their talent and play in the kinds of leagues and games that would develop them into serious prospects.
Upon his return, Piña got together with Leslie “Buddy” Lewis, managing director of sporting equipment producer Nokona Athletic Goods Company, and other Latino community activists to put together a series of games between talented Dominican players and semi-pro teams in the Connecticut and Massachusetts area.
Working in collaboration with Araminta Romero of the multicultural marketing and public relations firm The Merge Point, the group began to organize the series as a festival coinciding with Latino pride celebrations.
“Araminta and The Merge Point have been exceptional in terms of helping get the word out about the series,” said Valdez, a Dominican native.
They also established a relationship with Good Sports, a Boston-based charitable organization that works to help urban and disadvantaged youth participate in sports by providing them with sports equipment, uniforms and apparel; organizers will donate a portion of the ticket sales from all series games to Good Sports.
With the groundwork laid, all that remained was to field a team to square off against New England’s finest. Enter Valdez, who as team manager has been integral in scouting talent and finding players who would make the Latino all-stars competitive.
A former professional ballplayer who spent some time in the minor league systems of the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers and says he is thinking about playing in tomorrow night’s game at his team’s request, the 35-year-old Valdez used his contacts within the league to find out which colleges and universities had Dominican players that would be able to participate in the series.
He also contacted people he knew in the Dominican Republic who would be willing to represent their country in the inaugural series, and held tryouts through his baseball academy to identify other prospects.
Valdez says he has big plans for the future of the series, hoping to make it an annual event and even possibly have the Dominican squad join an independent league as the first all-Latino team in the U.S. He says the baseball series has even courted invitations to travel abroad to Europe and play other national teams.
The New England Latino Baseball Series comes to Jim Rice Field at Ramsay Park in Roxbury tomorrow night, Friday, July 11. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. and tickets are priced between $8-$10. For more information on the series, visit www.latinobaseballseries.com.
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