When an athlete appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated that is quite an achievement. When a Puerto Rican appears on the cover, that is a major achievement especially for many Boricuas in the Diaspora who are caught in the quagmire of being a U.S. citizen, but many times reminded that we are not, and thus Puerto Rican positive role models are not abundantly promoted in the corporate media.
That’s my story of a Puerto Rican born on the island nation of Puerto Rico but raised for the last sixty-four years in the South Bronx, the poorest congressional district in the country.
As a child growing up walking distance from Yankee stadium and having a father that his only sport other than playing dominoes was baseball, I was indoctrinated to the national pastime even before entering grade school. I loved the game and watching grown men play in what could have easily been triple A ball in the nearby fields of St. Mary’s Park was a regular Sunday ritual for me and my dad. Unfortunately, there were no little leagues in my hood for me to join and play the game, so stickball and Junior High School softball were the closest I came to playing any semblance of baseball.
I’ll never forget the excitement and pride of some of the folks in my block in July 1967 when someone had a copy of a Sports Illustrated magazine with Roberto Clemente on the cover. It was one copy that was being passed along the older men on the block like if it was a reveling photo on Playboy. It was the talk in the local bodega and barber shop where I worked occasionally sweeping the floors. A Puerto Rican on the cover of Sports Illustrated. They were passing it along to many who did not understand or read English. I remember being asked to read bits of the article. I could see the pride as they all highlighted almost every sentence I read.
Unfortunately, I was not into Clemente. I had been totally into the only team I knew, the Yankees and at the young age of fifteen I only knew of what my father and some of the older men would brag about Roberto Clemente, Juan Marichal and the Alou Brothers. I never got a chance to see any of them play because they were all in the National League and I only saw American League Yankee games. I was not into any of them because they were not Yankee players. I only knew my favorite player, Mickey Mantle other Yankee players like Tom Tresh, Roy White, Mel Stottlemyre and Elston Howard.
Remembering that year, I fast forward to 1980 when another Sports Illustrated cover caught my attention with Reggie Jackson. I was now Twenty-Eight years old and also knew that this Yankee, Reggie Jackson’s second last name was
Martinez from his Puerto Rican mother. So that issue of Sports Illustrated with Reginald Martinez Jackson was a bragging point for me.
Today at the age of sixty-eight seeing the cover of the April 2021 with New York Mets, Francisco Lindor is indeed a special treat. Seeing Lindor, the third Puerto Rican to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated is a positive boost to many in the Puerto Rican community, both in Puerto Rico and in the mainland. I can definitely say that here in New York City where the Puerto Rican community has been affected disproportionately by the Covid Pandemic and fighting to survive a vicious gentrification forcing the dwindling of our barrios Lindor’s presence will help build pride in a community in need of positive cultural pride no matter what team they might be rooting for.
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