Baseball, for the most part, takes place in the well-trodden hinterlands of the United States. Sure, much of the talent may come from various islands off the coast of Florida but ultimately they make their way through towns like Lansing, Peoria and Lehigh in hopes of being called up to Cincinnati, Kansas City or Pittsburgh. Being a baseball player often means getting an up close and personal lesson on US geography.
At the same time, many of these same fans who cheer for the Venezuelan or Dominican shortstop coming up with the team through the minors fail to see the irony in their universal distaste for immigrants and immigration. How do you think your Mexican pitching ace got here in the first place, shitforbrains? Sometimes it’s not so surprising when you consider the fanbase:
While these baseball migrants experience US geography firsthand and slowly learn more about their adopted country, many Americans willingly refuse to learn anything about the world around them. This is never more apparent than during the Olympic games.
The opening ceremony is a case in point with people scrambling for their atlases as soon as Albania and Algeria march in. It’s a little more disconcerting when even major US news sources can’t figure out the differences between the countries.
Luckily, though, the swimming, gymnastics and running are almost complete so there’s only one more week until we can go back to ignoring the world. Even more importantly, we can get back to fighting the menace of immigration. Well, unless it means picking up your new Japanese pitcher. Seriously, Texas, how do you think Yu Darvish got there?
Baseball represents the best part of American immigration policy. Sure, most baseball players come over on non-immigrant visas but when they arrive, they become part of a team and those differences of nationality and ethnicity disappear in the fight for a playoff spot. Well, unless you happen to be a modern-day nativist like Gary Sheffield. In general, though, baseball is a powerful tool for US diplomacy and relations in our own hemisphere.
But while writing the filibuster the other day, I got to thinking about an often overlooked part of baseball diplomacy. Many of the players come from poor Caribbean or Latin American countries where people often have a hard time getting visas to come visit the US. If you’re a non superstar type of guy or even just a young guy with an opportunity to try out for a team, how do you convince a visa officer that you’re going to return to your country if things don’t pan out? Obviously this isn’t an issue for a Johan Santana or someone like that but most players are not Johan Santana.
The New York Times addressed this very issue recently but also brought up a point that hits home for any Tigers’ fan. Beyond simply making the team, what happens to players who have proven their worth and no longer have trouble getting a visa but then go out and commit some sort of crime? For instance, what happens to Miguel Cabrera after his recent DUI? Although this is Cabrera’s first DUI, it’s not his first brush with law as a result of drinking. These incidents definitely affect his eligibility and at the very least could hold up the process the next time he applies for a US visa.
No matter what happens to Cabrera, baseball consistently remains ahead of the curve in its anticipation of social change. In much the same way that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the 40’s, the flood of baseball migrants heralds an eventual shift in our thinking on immigration policy. Although Joe Autoworker from Detroit is sure that some immigrant took his job, he’s not interested in applying this same logic to Miguel Cabrera and his fellow Venezuelans playing for the Tigers. The problem is, Cabrera might have just taken care of that issue of his own accord.
Yeah, yeah, so they have a winning baseball games problem (see Diamondbacks).
Yeah, yeah, so they have a Matt Leinart problem.
Arizona has Jan Brewer. And Jan Brewer is on it!
I mean, it could be worse. She could be Nyjer Morgan.
Hate me ‘cuz you can, just don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.
(thanks to C for the vid tip)
The Phoenix Suns gave us the “Los Suns” jerseys. What are the chances we
see “Los Tigres” or “Los D’backs”?
Excellent question, Charles. And very a propos considering all that has been going on down there on the border. It’s also an interesting question because baseball is a sport dominated by Latin players. If you’ll forgive me for making a very broad generalization, Hispanic-Americans love baseball and also seem to be unfairly targeted by what has been going on. So, what do we do?
Well, it’s nice that the Suns made this display of solidarity especially since it’s their state. And baseball has already been in the business of reaching out to the Latino community since the days of Roberto Clemente. But it takes more than some slogans on a t-shirt. Yes, it’s an important gesture but sports are such an integral part of the fabric of America that there’s much more they can do to educate people.
And when it comes to education, no sport is quite out front of the curve like baseball. Roberto Clemente paved the way for Latinos in baseball but he also made them more visible in society. It goes without saying that Jackie Robinson’s impact rippled far beyond the confines of the stadiums in which he played.
In fact, even now baseball has an unprecedented ability to make a huge impact in this situation. No, they can’t overturn the law. But they could encourage all the teams that use Arizona as a spring training base to move out and even offer financial incentives to teams who choose to do so. If they wanted to do something really drastic, why not say that the Diamondbacks will have to play their home games in a neighboring state until the situation is addressed. No, MLB can’t overturn the law but they can make it mighty painful for those who enacted it.
Baseball is sport but it’s also business. And one of the touchstones for businesses recently is the idea of corporate social responsibility. Companies give back to the communities in which they operate and attempt to show that they are good citizens. Well, considering the make up of the league and its most rabid fan base, baseball’s corporate social responsibility would seem to extend directly to this situation.
Sports and particularly baseball have the ability to change society. Cute translations of teams’ names makes for good press and nice t-shirts but if they really want to take up the mantle once again and make a real difference, more drastic action is needed. So let’s see it Bud. Have the D’backs play their home games in Vegas or Albuquerque and let’s see how long this law stays on the books. Jim Crow didn’t last long after Jackie. I bet SB1070 wouldn’t either.
When it comes to the Tigers, I’ve realized that the best approach is the approach taken by thousands of animal lovers and jilted lovers the world over:
“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back it’s yours forever. If not, it was never meant to be.”
Now, I love Tigers baseball. I mean, I don’t want to marry it or anything but the feelings I had watching Maggs hit that homerun against the A’s in 2006 to send the Tigers to the World Series, well, they were some pretty strong feelings. It’s like how I felt watching Cecil Fielder back in the day and how I felt a couple weeks ago when my brother and I got to watch the Tigers pile on the Orioles for six runs in the first inning. And it’s because of this love that I had to release the Tigers to their destiny this past week. It’s not for me to decide their fate but there’s nothing I can do to help either. So, I set them free.
However, it seems that some people have taken umbrage with this decision and called me out in public. To this I can only say: Mr. Lung, I denounce and reject your most recent post. Especially its typically red state divisive tactics of preying on the fear people have when it comes to immigration. I didn’t realize the Mssrs. Renteria and Cabrera spoke like some two-bit villian from an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. But, leave it to the Karl Rove inspired politicking of a red state fan to base an argument on stereotypes and America’s misguided fear of immigrants. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but Major League Baseball would be a very sad sport these days without the new levels of talent brought to the league by our friends from the south. And even if Sheff doesn’t like it, they’re here to stay. So, lets try to keep this debate on the up-and-up and leave behind the caricatures, eh? It’s what Tupac would want us to do.
John McCain’s campaign almost died last year because of one word: Immigration. Being from a border state, Sen. McCain understands that building a fence or becoming more bellicose does not stop illegal immigration, it just forces it even further underground. And he understands that the US economy will not continue to grow without inexpensive labor from overseas. Or at least he understood it up until he got the nomination.
However, we baseball fans are in a particularly excellent position to understand immigration and its positive effects. Without immigration (illegal or otherwise), we would not see the game the way that it is played today.
Seriously, can you imagine basbeball without Johan Santana, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Carlos Zambrano? Well, with current immigration policy towards Venezuela, you might have to. We’re lucky that these players made it in to the US before the clampdown but who knows what future A-Rod or K-Rod is being held up because they don’t have their papers together in exactly the order required or because they can’t get an interview due to new regulations.
Now, you’d have to be daft to say that immigration is not a very real issue that demands tough solutions. But you’d have to be just as daft to say that shutting down the border and scaling back immigration even further will improve the situation or help the US in general.
This is an idea still in its infancy but if the US can use baseball to help with its diplomatic relations, sending big league baseball stars to other countries to talk about the US, why can’t it use baseball in the other direction, to help the American people understand the positive effects of immigration?