Baseball is everywhere.
Chantal Hevia, the president and CEO of the Ybor Baseball Museum read a quote saying, “Baseball has played a role in everyday life since the 1800s” and that's what both the Ybor Baseball Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of National History is trying to document.
In February, the museum hosted traveling curators from the Smithsonian in Ybor City to showcase Tampa’s strong connection with Latinos and baseball history while collecting donated memorabilia for both the Smithsonian and Tampa Baseball Museum.
“We are aiming to collect a national collection to enrich what we have in terms of baseball,” Smithsonian curator of Latino/a History and Culture, Margaret Salazar-Porzio, says. “The ultimate goal is to preserve these objects from local communities.”
Salazar-Porzio has traveled across the country, documenting objects that represent the impact the sport has had in Latino culture, as well as the impact Latino culture has had on baseball.
“We go to unexpected communists to help tell the story of baseball in those communities and important the game was,” Salizar-Porzio said.
The museum is not in the market for Alex Rodriguez’s rookie card or any valuable Major League Baseball memorabilia, but is searching for small objects with big stories.
Salizar-Porzio described on unique object found on one of her cross-country collections as a handmade baseball bat. The bat was made by a high schooler and was used as the “community bat” for neighborhood baseball games. It was called “the peace keeper” as whoever held the bat would have final say in decisions made about the game.
We have a good representation of Mexican culture from southwestern cities, but Ybor City presents a unique and exciting opportunity to collect around Cuban players and what the community represents,” Salazar-Porzio said.
According to Salizar-Porzio, over 90 players from Tampa have made it to the major leagues.
And few players from Tampa have as influential as Al Lopez.
Lopez was born and raised in Ybor City to Spanish parents who briefly immigrated to Cuba before settling in Tampa. Lopez began his professional baseball career at age 16 playing for the minor-league Tampa Smokers before spending a career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Cleveland Indians. Lopez was the first Tampa native to reach the major leagues, the first to manage a major-league team, the first to lead his team to the World Series and the first to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Lopez paved the way for other Tampa Latinos such as Lou Piniella and Tony La Russa, who followed in his footsteps.
The Ybor Baseball Museum took control of the Al Lopez Ybor home and is currently converting it into a baseball museum.
“We were gifted the house and decided the best way to utilize the house was to talk about baseball in Tampa,” Liz McCoy, of the Ybor City Museum Society, says. “There’s a super-close relationship between baseball and Tampa; a long relationship, over 130 years, of history in this community.
McCoy said the primary initiative of the afternoon was to collect artifacts for the Smithsonian, but says the Ybor museum is also taking donations. The museum is in its final fundraising push and is hoping to be operational by the end of this summer.
The afternoon also featured a panel discussion that presented speakers such as Latino baseball authors, coaches, players who have played in Cuba, and the Tampa Bay Rays’ broadcaster Orestes Destrade.
Destrade, a native of Cuba, grew up in Miami but is fully aware of Tampa’s significance in the history of baseball.
Destrade describes his first time leaning about Tampa baseball history as a high schooler playing in the state championships at Al Lopez filed in 1978.
“I’ll never forget it,” Destrade says.
Destrade attended college in Temple Terrace and has made Tampa his home ever since.
“The passion when I run into the likes of [people] who talk about the history of baseball here; West Tampa, the rivalries. It’s beautiful,” Destrade says.
Ybor City and Tampa’s Latino baseball history is well represented in the community. The Smithsonian’s goal is to first document and preserve this culture for future generations, but is also hoping to open a specific exhibit surrounding the topic in 2018. They also hope to bring the exhibit on tour, possibly in 2020.
“Obviously there are many unique items from the major leagues but these really deep ties to communities and the objects that represent them are the things we are looking for,” Salizar-Porzio says. “It’s the minor [leagues], communities, families, generations of families, fathers teaching sons and daughters, that we are looking for."