As I traveled throughout Florida for my Grapefruit league coverage, I noticed one overwhelming commonality throughout every game I attended: the amount of persons of color is distressingly low. For a sport that features a diverse player base, why was the fanbase so dominated by only white people?
I interviewed other persons of color (I’m a weird, complicated mix of Korean, Native American and Mexican) to see their thoughts and was unsurprised to see I wasn’t the only person who felt this way.
“It’s always been like this,” said Isaac Gonzales, 19. “When I was in little league, the white kids got to play because their dads ran the team.
“Their dads ran the team because their dads could buy the bats.”
Gonzales, raised in Miami, was very evidently frustrated when discussing the subject. Obviously it was a topic that had weighed on his mind a lot.
“I kept playing, sure,” continued Gonzales. “I could compete because I was athletic, but it was obvious the extra practice was paying off. I couldn’t practice more growing up because I was helping my mom or dad at their work whenever I could.”
We took a break to watch the game, a spring training matchup between the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. Miguel Cabrera was up to bat; Gonzales was wearing a Ronald Acuña Jr. jersey, another player from their home country of Venezuela, and watched the at-bat with the utmost focus.
“He came from the same place my family came from,” said Gonzales of Cabrera. “Zero to hero is the only way I can describe it in my head. We came from nothing, and I am blessed to be here.”
Cabrera was a beacon of hope to Gonzales and his younger brother, who was at home in Miami. If Cabrera could make it out of hell, so could the Gonzales clan.
So what exactly is the problem?
Baseball, with roots in the United Kingdom, was in fact a sport adopted by persons of color after the fact. It makes sense for baseball to have a lot of white fans, it’s part of their culture, after all.
The fans are friendly as well! I had nothing but great experiences talking to fans at the various games during my own spring training experience.
And while there is obviously a racist history in the sport that cannot be ignored, baseball today has evolved to be inclusive. Rosters do have diversity- 41 percent of players in Major League Baseball are of color, according to a 2019 study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
But, in 2017 that number was 42.5 percent. Coaches of color has also dropped in percentage as well, 45.9 percent in 2017 has dropped to 43.9 percent in 2019 according to that same study. (However, the number of managers and VP/front office personnel of color has risen even though both numbers are still in the teens.)
The money gap is a big part of the problem, theorizes Gonzales. “It’s hard to do something like go to a baseball game when you have to work every day of the week.”
Gonzales walked me through a story of a teammate of his with a similar story to himself, whose parents struggled to put food on the table and as such could not dedicate funds to sending their son to a baseball academy that other teammates were attending. He ended up quitting baseball out of frustration.
“I know we can’t like, just solve racism here,” said Gonzales. “But I just don’t know how we would go about getting more players like me and you to come out without hitting that same wall.”
“One idea I had was some kind of opportunity to come see more games at a younger age, when I was little, my dad made it a point to take me to a spring training game.”
Gonzales has only been to one major league game, however. He says the tickets are too expensive, although “the Marlins are so bad I can go see them whenever.”
“One day, I’m going to take my own kid to a major league game,” Gonzales said. “We’re going to get a nice seat behind home.
“I’m just so damn sick of only getting lawn seats.”