The 46th year of the Latin American Coed Softball League got off to a chilly start this year on Sunday, May 6, 2018. With the temperatures in the 40’s Monica Ortiz led off the Opening Day ceremonies by singing the National Anthem. Lansing City Councilman Jeremy Garza was this years guest speaker and offered his services as he represents most of the city’s south side. As always, the league allows the guest speaker to throw out the first pitch and Jeremy did himself proud. In anticipation of Al and Olivia Mejorado finally stepping aside (let’s face it, they are too loved, too valuable, too dependable and 25 years from now this writer will still remember the talks I had with these two), the league decided to ask Al to throw out his “Last, first pitch”. It was fittingly, a strike. What else would we expect from a man who not too long ago played on a 70 and over national softball championship team and he has the ring to prove it.
In an annual tradition that seems to take on new memories each year with each passing of a softball league member, the league holds a moment of silence on Opening Day, to remember those the league has lost. Rey Alvarado and Roberto Rosas have now taken over the leadership of the league and right away made a key change to the calendar. The league each year takes Mother’s Day and Father’s Day off. On Father’s Day, they have decided to have a family day at the park complete with a kick ball game with the kids on the field. If you have ever been to one of the games, on any given Sunday, you will see in excess of 200-250 people and plenty of kids. When was the last time you seen a kickball game? These are young families so mark your calendars.
Here is an excerpt from the well known book “Lansing’s Latin American Leagues” written by Gilbert Salazar and Noe Hernandez and they were referring to the baseball leagues from `1946 to 1979:
They write “Washington Park had picnic area, restrooms, a playground for children and two playing diamonds. Two games were played there each Sunday beginning at noon and ending at 6:00pm”.
For almost two years I ran a forum for the National Magazine called Hispanic Magazine that ended in 2001(?). From the forum I wrote:
“Games started around one in the afternoon and again, doubleheaders were common. These games attracted many from the community with most Church services over by 12 noon. My family went to the 9am Mass at Cristo Rey Church, headed home to change clothes, have breakfast and we would be at the park by 12noon for the 1pm baseball games in the early 1970’s. Spending the day at the park watching baseball games in the 1970’s and then softball games over the next 30 years was something many of us kids back then treasure today.”
Does anyone who has been apart of these leagues see the resemblance to the present day Latin leagues? The faces have changed but even some of the names are still present as several players had parents or grandparents who played in either the baseball leagues which ran from 1946-1979 or the softball leagues from 1973 to the present. I so miss the days of the watching of going to Washington Park, Sycamore Park, or traveling out to Lake Odessa or Eaton Rapids. My favorite player (other than my dad of course) was Lee Lopez. He played with the spirit of the feisty Billy Martin from the Detroit Tigers and 3 time New York Yankee manager (yes I rooted for the Yankees briefly til they fired him each time). He was a scrappy, all in player who played to win. Lee Lopez to me was the best.
But what I really miss is the feeling of familia. I remember asking my dad Benjamin Benavides (or Bennie back then), “so this team beat you twice today, and you still invite them over after the game for a cookout?” He would merely reply, “they are like family. They are us. So yes, I invited them over.” The baseball park was the great equalizer for our parents and grandparents. In the world they lived in, they were looked down upon, but yet, at the park, on the field, they found their place. No one could tell them, they didn’t belong or they couldn’t speak their Spanish language. They could feel safe that their kids were not learning that “they were different” as they played with other kids who “looked like them”. For those of you that play in the Latin American Latin Leagues today, to you, its fun, family and a great game. But to those early years of the Lansing Latin Leagues, it was how they survived and found a place in a society that didn’t want them. – off my soapbox