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Nilson Pepen, the Spanish broadcaster for the Red Sox, has covered slugger David Ortiz for his whole career. And just like Ortiz, Pepen hails from the Dominican Republic.

So, naturally, Ortiz’s induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, July 24 will feel personal.

“Well, like a Dominican, I feel so proud for him,” Pepen said. “He represents us in a good way, man. In a good way.”

The DR has a long history of producing some of the best baseball talent to come out of Latin America. Despite this, Ortiz will be only the fourth Dominican to be elected to Cooperstown’s prestigious roster, representing another step forward for Latino players, who make up nearly 30 percent of all Major League players as of Opening Day.

Historically, there have been major hurdles Latinos have had to overcome to become some of the biggest names in the game.

Pittsburgh Pirates legend Roberto Clemente was one of the sport’s great players and humanitarians. He broke the ceiling for Latin American players when he was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973.

“I think that was a seminal moment for Latinos,” said Amaury Pi-Gonzalez, a Spanish broadcaster for the Oakland A’s and vice president of the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame.

But even with that precedent-setting moment, over the next 37 election cycles, only five other Latinos who played in the Major Leagues were elected by sports writers to join Clemente in Cooperstown. Several Latino players who played in the Negro Leagues pre-integration also have made it to Cooperstown.

Part of that was a simple lack of Latino players in Major League Baseball until the last two decades. And those who were playing often went unheard. Pi-Gonzalez remembers when Spanish-speaking players didn’t have translators provided by their team when speaking to mostly white reporters.

Pi-Gonzalez would sometimes translate for players himself, breaking from his role as reporter and broadcaster to help players out. But that didn’t stop their words from being misunderstood. That burned even the greats like Clemente.

“And some of these great players like Clemente, Juan Marichal with the Giants, sometimes they got misquoted,” he recalled. “And some of them, not all of them, they didn’t feel very happy about that, they thought they were discriminated [against]. And I think they were, probably.”

That language barrier can be a big deal when the baseball press is still largley English-speaking. It wasn’t until the 2016 season that Major League Baseball required its teams to have Spanish-speaking translators.

Pi-Gonzalez says it contributed to an era where Hispanic players were largely ignored.

“Because I know, covering them, and I talked to many of them,” he said. “Tony Armas, from Venezuela, he’s now retired ... and he told me, ‘Maury, I don’t get treated well. I have to do twice as good as an Anglo player to get recognition.’”

Armas was a two-time All-Star and was a Silver Slugger as an outfielder in his 1984 season with the Red Sox. He led all players in home runs that year with 43 house calls.

Pi-Gonzalez also reflected on players like Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, who had to deal with the dual struggles of being Latino and Black while playing through segregation.

“Baseball is the toughest sport to be good at, right? It’s just tough. And then you have to put up with this other stuff, that you can't even eat in the same restaurant as a white player,” he said. “And they have to put [up] with that and still focus into the game.”

Pepen also points out that several great Latino players, like Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, have had their names caught up in the storm around performance enhancing drugs accusations, tainting their legacy and perhaps leaving some all-timers out of Cooperstown. Ortiz was also alleged to have used PEDs.

Still, the struggles of early players paved the way for today’s stars. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of Latino Major Leaguers who made it to the Hall doubled. Now, there’s a wealth of Latino players who draw big crowds in ballparks across the country.

“The future is bright. When you see a player like Ronald Acuña, Jr., Juan Soto, Rafael Devers, Fernando Tatís, Jr. and others, you can see they have a bright future,” said Pepen, the Red Sox broadcaster.

"In the Dominican [Republic], baseball, we live through it, you know what I'm saying? It's part of what we are."
David Ortiz

The Hall of Fame is also righting some of its previous missteps. Players like Minnie Miñoso, a 13-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner who was the first Black player for the Chicago White Sox and Tony Oliva, an eight-time All-Star who was the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 1964, both made it in this year’s class thanks to the Golden Days Era committee.

All of this has made for a better baseball world for young players like Yoldi Soriano. Soriano, who has played with The BASE in Roxbury for about six years, is following in the footsteps of his father, Fred, who played baseball in the Dominican Republic before playing minor league ball in the United States.

Soriano says the game has been a crutch for young people in the DR, his father included.

“Most kids relied on baseball to be able to have a chance at touching a whole lot of money while being young and then being able to help their family out,” he said.

Soriano, who’s planning on playing junior college ball at Mott Community College in Michigan, takes pride in what Dominican players like Ortiz have done for him and other kids hoping to play in the big leagues.

“In DR, they’re seen pretty much as heroes,” he said. “Baseball is a way out for a lot of kids, so having that role model in front of your eyes is great for the young kids.”

When the Hall of Fame announced in January that Ortiz would be inducted, Ortiz kept his country close to his heart.

“I know it’s a very big deal everywhere, but here [in the Dominican Republic] we have the way to celebrate baseball ’cause it’s in our blood, you know what I’m saying?” he told reporters on the night of his election. “In the Dominican [Republic], baseball, we live through it, you know what I’m saying? It’s part of what we are.”

Ortiz made history as one of the best hitters baseball’s ever seen. But when he crosses the stage in Cooperstown, he’ll be representing not just himself and the Dominican Republic, but generations of players who dreamed of being treated like the stars they were.