In conjunction with the opening of Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues, Northeast News Publisher Michael Bushnell sat down with Topeka, Kan., native and 20-year Major League veteran Mike Torrez and exhibit curator Dr. Gene Chavez to talk about Latino baseball and Torrez’s experience coming up through the American Legion Leagues in Topeka during the 1950’s before signing with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964.
The exhibit runs through November 14 and is a collaboration between the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and the Kansas City Museum.
In 2016, the Smithsonian Institution Offices sent researchers across America to collect artifacts and oral histories of Mexican American and other Latino players from local or professional teams. Their search eventually led them to Chavez.
“I was able to be instrumental in the collecting of the various artifacts,” Chavez said. “In the exhibit will be items that feature our local Mexican teams. For example, a pair of cleats that were used by a player who played on local Mexican teams that were actually donated by the American Royals to this particular Mexican club, and had been used by a former player and he didn’t know who, but they were prized for him as the young man playing in Mexican leagues.”
Chavez said that he’s excited to be able to provide artifacts for the national museum because it’s helping represent the people of Kansas City. He feels like local stories of people of color are often neglected in museums.
The exhibit’s purpose is to take visitors through the history of United States Latino baseball and share stories that demonstrate the impact of baseball within Latino communities across the nation, as well as how individuals have influenced and changed the game for over a century.
“What we hope is that they have the opportunity to learn about the Latino players across the country playing ball,” Chavez said. “Over the last 100 years, Latino players have really become very dominant in the game of baseball, so we hope they learn about that history. A lot of times, especially in our area, you know about the Negro Leagues that play, but there were also Mexican leagues that play.”
The exhibit will kick off in Kansas City on Saturday August 21, 2021 at the Urban Youth Academy, 1622 E 17th Terrace.
The Los Sabios Commemorative Games, in its sixth year, will start at 9 a.m. with a full slate of fast-pitch softball games. A short ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. followed by the “old timers game.” Afterwards, players, family, and fans will be invited to tour the ¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues exhibit.
The exhibition is free to the public and will be on view at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 12 to 5 p.m.
For the Northeast News’ full interview with Mike Torrez, read next week’s issue of the Northeast News or visit northeastnews.net.