As Latino Clout in St. Louis Grows, the Cardinals Test a Spanish-Language Broadcast

Fans flocked to Fiesta Cardenales.
Fans flocked to Fiesta Cardenales. PHOTO BY STEVE TRUESDELL

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click to enlarge Oscar (left) and Alberto Pasadas run a Latino baseball league in St. Charles County. - PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
Oscar (left) and Alberto Pasadas run a Latino baseball league in St. Charles County.

Baseball will always be baseball, but every culture adopts its rhythms and rituals in its own way. From Red Sox fans singing "Sweet Caroline" at full volume to Dodgers fans dressed in Lucha Libre wrestling masks, the game has proved amazingly receptive to fans' adaptations and celebrations.

On the Sunday before La Ke Buena's broadcast, dozens of baseball devotees drive back roads to a baseball diamond carved from the farmland of rural St. Charles County. Here at Josephville Ballpark, the Mineros are battling the Venados in a best-of-three series for the championship of the St. Louis-area Latin Baseball League.

The players are mostly young men, but there is no real age limit. Teens suit up alongside middle-aged dads. Their families fill the wooden bleachers or perch on the tailgates of pickup trucks parked along the fence lines. Oscar Posadas, 40, and his brother are running the league for the first time this year after a predecessor bowed out.

The brothers' team, Toros, had been expected to challenge a squad of Nicaraguan players for the crown of the six-team league, but both ballclubs were knocked out by underdogs. On this Sunday, the Posadases have just come to watch and talk baseball.

"No excuses," Oscar Posadas says of the Toros' late-season defeat. "They had a really good pitcher."

Ten years ago, this league would have been impossible. Posadas used to play in the old Eastern Missouri Baseball Association, and his team was the only Latino one in the league, he says. By that he means they had a number of Hispanic players, but it wasn't even enough for a full roster.

Hispanic and Latino residents accounted for just 1.5 percent of St. Charles County's population in the 2000 U.S. Census. The numbers jumped to 2.8 percent in 2010 and an estimated 3.2 percent in 2015. Anna Crosslin, president and CEO of the International Institute, says Hispanic immigration routes or "flow patterns" traditionally split off south of St. Louis in Missouri's bootheel, with one path running into Illinois toward the Metro East or Chicago. Another has tracked west toward agricultural areas of Nebraska and Iowa. St. Louis historically has gotten skipped.

And cross-country migration from the West Coast often pools in Kansas City, giving it a Hispanic population roughly twice the size of the one in St. Louis, says Crosslin, whose organization offers a wide variety of resettlement and other services to refugees and immigrants from its headquarters in the Tower Grove East neighborhood.

"What that means is we have to work harder to attract immigrants than other cities that are naturally in the flow pattern," Crosslin says.

Jorge Riopedre, president of multiservice health clinic Casa de Salud, looks at a recent spike of foreign-born residents in the St. Louis area as a key to the metro's economic future. A constellation of organizations are working to keep it going, he says, and the popularity of the Cardinals is important.

"What brand in St. Louis exceeds the Cardinals in feel-good?" he asks. "The stamp of approval in a city that asks where you went to high school is a big thing."

Rural areas surrounding the city have begun to show growth in permanent residents and also seasonal workers. A good chunk of Garcia's tax business now comes from visa workers who arrive to work during the growing season and go home in the winters. One of the teams in the Latin Baseball League, the Sinaloa Cañeros, comprises entirely visa workers, Posadas says.

It doesn't happen as much anymore, but he has known lots of people who immigrated to the United States only to return home later out of feelings of isolation in a foreign culture. Posadas himself was raised in the baseball-mad village of Pucuato in a mountainous region of the Mexican state of Michoacán. He left home nearly two decades ago, bouncing between Georgia and Chicago before his job as a supervisor in a chain of Mexican restaurants took him to Belleville, Illinois.

He married a local girl, and when the restaurant shut down, he stayed. He now owns a landscaping business and lives a short drive from the Josephville field in O'Fallon.

The Latin league formed to fill a gap in the region's rec leagues. Posadas says he and his brother enjoyed the competitiveness of the established leagues, but it wasn't the game they remembered from home. There always seemed to be some politicking over the operations, and teams paid as much as $3,000 to play seven-inning games during a short season.

"No, this is not baseball for us," Posadas says they decided.

The Latino league teams kick in $800 each for fifteen weeks of regular-season baseball. A string of nine-inning games begin in the morning and last late into the night. Between games, the players, fans and umpires eat tacos fresh off the griddle and cupfuls of chopped papaya, watermelon and cantaloupe spiced with Tajin seasoning and lime juice. It's like Field of Dreams rewritten in Spanish.

A handful of Major League teams are represented on the hats and T-shirts of the faithful at Josephville, but the Cardinals are easily the favorite. Little kids in Molina jerseys play catch in the grassy parking lot, and the men discuss the probability of the team making the playoffs. When the games are broadcast in Spanish the following week, Posadas says, they'll be listening.

"Absolutely," he says. "Most of these guys, they're big fans of the game."

click to enlarge Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez with Carlos "Carlitos" Posadas. - COURTESY OF OSCAR POSADAS
Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez with Carlos "Carlitos" Posadas.

They're still buzzing about the day a couple of weeks before when Cardinals star Carlos Martinez visited the rural park. They explain that the ferocious right-hander posed for pictures with little kids and kicked back among the shade trees. Then Martinez, who'd apparently come at the invitation of some Dominican players on one of the teams, asked why no one had told him about the league earlier.

"I would have come to hang out on my days off," he told them.

To Posadas, the 25-year-old seemed happy just to relax away from the spotlight for an afternoon.

"He's so young," Posadas says, "and his job is very serious."

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