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viernes, 17 de agosto de 2007

Luis Castro and the ship log


The development of Latinos in the game of baseball and their contributions in many aspects to the highest levels, not only in the United States, but also around the planet is an issue completely unquestionable by the time I write these words, the year 2007.

Baseball created its roots in the northeastern region of the United States over 150 years ago and today is one of the most recognized and followed sports in the globe, serving as a way of entertainment and as a mean of living and a lifestyle for millions of living souls.

Latin America quickly got on board with the game that Walt Whitman once praised. Databases and documentations from Cuba, Venezuela and Mexico have shown the presence and beginnings of the game before the arrival of the 20th century creating around this game what today we consider as a cultural connection, a legacy, and a heritage.

The best exponents of the game from our countries carry the same heritage these days. Their perseverance and hard work to make a living and help the growth of the game is present in each player that arrives to the United States and attempts to become a star in the top level, the major leagues, or at least get a little taste of its sweet flavor, just like Luis Castro did in 1902.

Our focus in Castro in based on being the first born in Latin American who ever played Major League Baseball. Esteban Enrique Bellán, a Cuban ball player, was the first Latino who ever played "professional baseball" in the United States, when he was sent from Cuba to study at Fordham where he played baseball, becoming a star who was hired by the Troy Haymakers of the National Association in 1871. However, Major League Baseball history does not recognize the National Association stats or players as a part of their system, because of some issues about this circuit: gambling, dominance of only one team and the lack of a central direction or authority. Since this is also a point in dispute in baseball history, Bellán is not considered a former major league baseball player, at least not an official one.

For many years we, as Latinos, have believed that the pioneer in the Major Leagues has been a mystical, mysterious, even phantasmagorical figure of a second baseman that was picked by the legendary manager-owner Connie Mack to play for his Philadelphia Athletics. Luis Castro's birthplace has been subject of never-ending researches from people all over the continent. The biggest mystery remains there, although after years of putting some results together and talking to several people, the search is now narrowed to Colombia, either Cali, Cartagena or Medellin or New York City.

The most common version of the story tells that Castro was a student at the Manhattan College in New York and was signed to play at the major league level with the Philadelphia team of the American League. He played just 42 games and after that he was released. There are records about his playing days in Minor League Baseball after 1902.

It was also believed that he could have been the son of General Cipriano Castro, president of Venezuela, who sent his son to attend college in New York, and became a baseball player, but the kid in order to hide his activities from his father, changed his nationality on the school records.

The most recent version came after the United States government made public the original records of the 1930 census, and researchers found that a Louis Castro, with profession "baseball player", son of Nestor Castro, was a resident of Flushing, New York, and as his birthplace he stated: New York City, putting aside the fact that he was the first Latin American born to ever play baseball at the Major League level.

The biggest challenge in Castro's case is to determine his birthplace. After all, we know that he played baseball; we know that he attended Manhattan College, and we know he died in New York City. Bu this birthplace will make his soul to be recognized as the first Latin major leaguer, or not. If he was born in Colombia or Venezuela, he is definitely "the one", if he was born in New York, then we will have to place our directions to Chick Pedroes, who played two games for the Chicago Orphans in August 1902, and was born, according to the official baseball records in Havana, Cuba.

After interviews and conversations with many people who have also attempted to trace Castro's origins, I talked to Nick Martinez, a baseball researcher from Las Vegas, Nevada who provided me with the key to leave Castro's legacy as the first Latino in Major Leagues.

Martinez found an original list of passengers from the S.S. Colon, which arrived in New York City on October 16th, 1885. The ship sailed from the port of Aspinwall, United States of Colombia. In this list, passenger number 18 is Nestor Castro, 50 years old, born in the United States of Colombia, listing banker as occupation, coming to America as a visitor. Passenger number 19 is Master Luis Castro, age 8, born in the United States of Colombia.

The most consistent data about Castro's life is that his father was Nestor Castro. It is stated in his school records and his census card; therefore, this list proves that Castro came at 8 years old, with his father to New York and both entered the United States as visitors, and stayed in the country. His birth date on November 25th, 1876 matches his reported age on the ship.

Colombia and Panama formed the United States of Colombia, as a country, until 1886 when the country changed the name to Republic of Colombia. Panama became an independent republic on November 3rd, 1903. The city of Aspinwall, was a center of dispute, since it was an important port of call and trade center for American companies who ended up calling the city “Aspinwall”. However the locals refused this name and claimed that the city's name should be Colon. In 1890 the Colombian government decided to return every mail piece addressed to Aspinwall, changing the official name of the city to Colon, which still remains.

In simple words, Castro and his father, both born in Colombia, supposedly on Medellin according to the school records, arrived in New York from Panama and started a new life in America since 1885.

About his relationship with President Castro, the story about being his son came from a reporter who wrote about him being some sort of a "prince" in Venezuela. In those days, for a Latino to become "accepted" needed to have some kind of high class position in society, and maybe the relationship was just a marketing tale. President Castro was an open enemy of the US international policy, and he was well known in political public opinion at the time.

General Castro was born in a border town in Venezuela and from 1888 and 1892 was the governor of his native state of Tachira. After he was ousted, went back to Colombia where he previously attended college and live a big part of his life, and planned the revolution movement to take the control and power of the country in 1899. Although no direct blood lines or genealogy links has been openly found, it is a strong possibility that Nestor and his son Luis, could have been part of General Castro's family in Colombia, and perhaps their trip to the U.S. and Luis' education could have been paid by their politician relative. Notice that the version of being general Castro's family came directly from a Luis story. His A’s teammates called him the "Prince of Venezuela".

According to Dr. Jose de Jesus Jimenez, a baseball researcher in the Dominican Republic, Castro was no an easygoing person and was rapidly fired from the Athletics because of his strong behavior. After being released he started his minor league career until 1912, as the SABR Minor League Committee, has supported.

In the July 2001 SABR Minor League Committee has stated that Carlos Bauer, a former secretary with the Association of Professional Baseball Players found out that Castro received economic assistance during his late age. The official data from this office showed his birthplace is New York City. After the S.S. Colon log, we can assume that Castro probably wanted to pass for an American citizen by born, in order to receive economical benefits from the Association and to avoid any kind of discriminations.

Recently, several baseball databases such as baseball-reference.com and baseball-almanac.com, changed his birthplace to New York, making Pedroes the first Latino in Major Leagues, but the discovery of the ship's information and passenger's list provides a solid, and perhaps an irrefutable proof about his immigration to America. Even though he was not the first player who was brought by a team to play Major Leagues, Castro has to be recognized and credited as the first Major League Baseball player ever born in a Latin American country.

Oh...by the way. He was Luis, not Louis.

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