As the voice of the Minnesota Twins Spanish-language radio broadcast, Alfonso Fernandez has come up with a signature home run call: “Damas y cabelleros, acabamos de escuchar un… acabamos de ver un cuadrangular! Traiganme un mariachi, porque esa pelota no vuelve mas!”
“It’s ‘Please bring me the mariachi band, and play ‘Las Golondrinas,’ ” laughed Fernandez, sitting in the Spanish Radio Baseball Network booth before the Twins-Milwaukee Brewers game on May 28. “The ‘Golondrinas’ means, when somebody is leaving the country, or their family, or when somebody dies, they play that mariachi, which is a very sad song.
“But I say it when there is a home run because, ‘That ball is never coming back!’”
A few hours later, the Twins’ Puerto Rican–born hero Eddie Rosario answered the hometown crowd’s chant of “Eddie! Eddie!” with a screamer into the right field stands as the Target Field scoreboard lit up with the unveiling of the hashtag #BombaSquad. Several hashtags have attempted to describe this current homer-happy group, but employing “bomba”— the Spanish word for bomb, the first native music/dance of Puerto Rico and the name of a traditional Puerto Rican drum — feels perfectly perfecto for this moment and team.
For his part, Fernandez has had the opportunity to use his mariachi-themed call mucho this year, as the Twins have raced out of the gates with a record-setting homerun production. Many of those homers have been hit by the likes of Rosario, Miguel Sano, Nelson Cruz and many others — all part of a long history of the Twins organization finding, cultivating, drafting, developing, and winning with players hailing from Spanish-as-first-language-speaking countries. #VivaTwins!
This year’s Twins team owes a big debt to the Dominican Republic, which has produced more big league players than any other country than the United States, with 102 Dominican-born players in the league this season. According to Major League Baseball statistics, the Twins and the Pittsburgh Pirates have the most internationally born players, with a total of 14 on each roster. Currently, the Twins’ 40-man roster includes 17 Spanish-speaking country-born players, which, combined with the team’s support staff, makes for one of the most Latino-heavy franchises in pro sports:
Ehire Adrianza (infielder; Venezuela); Willians Astudillo (catcher; Venezuela); Jose Berrios (pitcher; Puerto Rico); Randy Cesar (infielder; Domincan Republic); Nelson Cruz (designated hitter; Dominican Republic); Adalberto Mejia (pitcher; Dominican Republic); Gabriel Moya (pitcher; Venezuela); Brian Navarreto (catcher; Puerto Rico); Martin Perez (pitcher; Venezuela); Michael Pineda (pitcher; Dominican Republic); Jorge Polanco (infielder; Dominican Republic); Fernando Romero (pitcher; Dominican Republic); Rosario (infielder; Puerto Rico); Sano (third baseman; Dominican Republic); Jonathan Schoop (second baseman; Curacao); Tomas Telis (catcher; Venezuela); Ronald Torreyes (infielder; Venezuela); Rudy Hernandez (assistant hitting coach, Venezuela), and Tony Diaz (third base coach; Dominican Republic).
“It’s great,” said Twins Hall of Famer Tony Oliva, who came to Minnesota from Cuba in 1961 and was named Rookie of the Year in 1964. “It’s very nice; I’m so happy to see so many players from Latino-America and from different parts of the world and countries playing baseball here in the United States. Right now in the big leagues, we’ve got between 90-100 Dominicans and another 70 or 80 Venezuelans, and 20 or 35 Cubans, and a whole bunch from Puerto Rico right now. We have to thank Major League Baseball and the owners of the ball clubs who are willing to go all over the world for ball players and talent.”
Oliva, in fact, was part of trend started by the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins, whose owner, Clark Griffith, spearheaded an influx of Cuban-born players in the ‘40s, setting a trend that continues today.
“Before I played here, there were other players, like Camilo Pasqual and Zoilo Versalles; a lot of those guys came up when the Washington Senators moved here,” said Oliva. “After that, in the World Series, we had about five-six Cuban ballplayers playing for the Minnesota Twins.”
According to Twinkietown.com writer/researcher Thomas Reinking, the Twins own the longest streak of fielding a Latin American-born player in the major leagues: “The Twins have had at least one player born in a Latin American country play for them every season going back to 1948 when they were the Washington Senators. This just BARELY edged out the Chicago White Sox, who have the same streak going back to 1949. But, aside from the 1947 season, the Senators then had a Latin American born player play for them in every season from 1946-1935 too. So, since 1935, the Senators/Twins have had a player born in Latin America play for them in 82 of 83 seasons. That’s incredible!”
The culmination of that Latin-Minnesota flavor can be seen on the field this year, resulting in a perfect soup and little something that can only cautiously optimistically (this is Minnesota, after all) be called #BombaSquad fever.
“Being here, all together, being from Latin America, we want to make it as close to home as much as possible,” said the Twins Puerto Rican-born ace Jose Berrios, through the team’s translator/communications assistant, Elvis Martinez. “There’s not a lot of us [Latinos in Minnesota and Latino fans], but the ones who are here, they respect us and we’re proud to represent.”
“They still get homesick, but not the way we got homesick,” said Oliva, of today’s players. “You can be 18 or 20 or 30 and you can get homesick. You miss your country. I’ve been here 58 years now in America and obviously I miss Cuba, and my family. Now it’s better. It’s a lot better for everything.
“I’m really happy to be around and to chat with them a little bit and to share with them what we went through. Because, as I tell my friends, playing professional baseball right now is like a piece of cake, versus the times when we started. The facilities are so much better. If you come from Latino-America or another country now, and you’re 16 or 17 years old or a rookie, you know some English. When we come in, we were really green. We knew nothing. We knew money. We knew dinero.”
“We played baseball in Mexico, but I was born and grew up in a poor community,” said Fernandez. “For us, baseball was for rich people. Because we didn’t have any bats, we didn’t have baseballs, we didn’t have gloves, but we played baseball with any part of branch or wood or whatever we could find. We played soccer more.”
Times are different and the surging #BombSquad is largely the result of the Twins farm system, specifically Fred Guerroro, director of Latin America scouting and U.S. integration (and son of legendary Latin America scout Epifanio Obdulio “Epy” Guerroro, and brother of minor league manager Mike Guerroro.)
“Right now, we have a lot of Latin players, so there’s a big Latin nucleus in the clubhouse,” said Martinez, who was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Puerto Rico, and is in his second year as translator/communications assistant with the Twins. “I assist them with their pre-game and post-game interviews, and scouting reports and things like that, and I’m here to break down barriers between the game and the players, and the culture and the players, and the city and the players, and the fans and the players. I think that’s very important. If a player wants to express an idea or a message, they can do that in Spanish to me, because they’ll be able to give more details about their ideas, or comments, or answers, so it’s more understandable for the fans. We are the people who transcribe or translate that, so that the native English-speaking fans can understand the full message.”
Fans of all languages are embracing the Twins, whose hot start makes them a hot topic here and elsewhere (“My brother in Cuba knows everything there is to know about the Minnesota Twins,” said Oliva). The team has quickly gained an identity, playing with an exuberance and joy embodied by the words stamped on the dugout steps: Passion. Hustle. Heart. Fun.
“More outlets in more cities have been reaching out — Chicago, Miami, New York — outlets where you can tell they have a bigger Latin community,” said Martinez. “Every time we go out to those cities, we see more Spanish-speaking media, looking for stories, and information, and background on our players. Four of our five starters are Latino, so it’s a big thing going on, and everybody gets along, so it’s a good thing going.”
In sports as in life, communication and chemistry is everything, and the Twins hope all this bilingual and bilateral communication and chemistry translates to a summer to remember and a fall to recall.
“Every year the last few years we see attendance at Target Field is growing,” said Fernandez. “The reason I know and am one hundred percent sure that every year we have more and more people coming to the games is because we see the flags of their countries. I see the flag for Mexico, from Venezuala, from Dominican Republic. I like to walk around before the games, and I can see the faces, and when I walk into Lake Street and some other communities, people ask me about the baseball. Even people from El Salvador, from Central America, they are very interested in this year, in particular, 2019, because the team is winning.”
“In terms of the Latino community, we do many things,” said Twins’ diversity and inclusion strategy director Miguel Ramos.
“We do advertising and outreach and we support and sponsor grants and scholarships so Latinos can go to college; we sponsor Latino organizations through the work they do and we participate in festivals. But one of things the Twins believe is that it’s not only about races, it’s about people. We do this not only because you are Latino; we do this because you are part of Twins territory and you need to feel welcome here.”
“It’s more about being inclusive, and being a part of a major league baseball team, and doing great things for the community,” said Martinez. “So regardless if you were born here or not, the only thing that matters is that they’re all playing together, and I think bringing diversity into the clubhouse is important because everybody learns from each other. We all grew up in different parts of the country, different parts of the world, and it’s different ideas and different ways of seeing things, and I think that’s one of the things has translated onto the field, because everyone is playing together and it doesn’t really matter where you’re from.”
Especially given the goal for all concerned here in #BombaSquad Nation.
“They want to play in the World Series,” said Fernandez. “That is the mentality of this team, this year, and you can feel that atmosphere.”