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Baseball brings cultures together in Pittsburgh

By Carly Bozick, Point Park News Service:

Emmanuel Lopez, Richard Perez and Felix Castillo all have relocated to Pittsburgh from different Caribbean and South American countries for their love of baseball.

Lopez, a Puerto Rican native, Perez, a native of Venezuela, and Castillo, a native of the Dominican Republic, are capitalizing on their opportunities to play baseball at the collegiate level at Point Park University, while also pursuing a college degree.

Richard Perez, Emmanuel Lopez and Felix Castillo together before the game. Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service
Richard Perez, Emmanuel Lopez and Felix Castillo together before the game. Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service

“Their culture and language don’t matter; they all have one goal: to win and be successful,” Point Park baseball head coach Loren Torres said.

With a roster that fluctuates between 22 to 25 players, the team has made monumental strides over the past five seasons. The 2016 team finished a winning season with an overall 28-24 record and a 20-8 conference record.

In 2015, the team qualified for the NAIA World Series after posting a 37-13 record with a staggering 314 total runs scored.

In back-to-back seasons, the 2013 and 2014 Point Park teams finished 19th overall in the NAIA Top 25, and finished 6th in 2012 at the World Series.

Within this winning culture, there is something unique and diverse about the players on the roster: It always includes a handful of native Spanish speaking players in the lineup.

“To [the competition] we’re diverse; to us it’s normal,” associate head coach Rocky Capobianco said.

The recent success has put Point Park on the radar of many high school baseball recruits, but that radar extends far beyond the United States. Torres, a Puerto Rican native, has built a wide-ranging recruiting network that funnels players to Pittsburgh.

The team gathers before the start of warmups. (Coach pictured center). Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service
The team gathers before the start of warmups. (Coach pictured center). Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service

In addition to recruiting Americans, Torres has successfully recruited men from Spanish-speaking countries, especially in the Central and South American region. He is bilingual, which helps South American players assimilate to the new language and culture.

As the leader of the Point Park baseball program, Torres has been a great facilitator for Spanish-speaking players interacting with their American teammates. Lopez, Perez and Castillo said they knew that Point Park had a tough, but successful program, and the addition of Torres as coach was the deciding factor.

During practice, Torres has no problem speaking their native language, but when it comes to game time, it is key they work together with the rest of the team.

As Lopez left his family behind in his home country, the toughest challenge for him since moving to Pittsburgh within the past year is the language barrier.

Lopez is very receptive in his position as a first basemen. He ran on and off of the field, doing exactly as the coaches said. He spoke very to the point, yes or no answers, nodding his head when given the chance. Torres has helped him begin to adapt to learning a new language.

International player Emmanuel Lopez stretches during warmups. Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service
International player Emmanuel Lopez stretches during warmups. Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service

Lopez mentioned that his favorite part of playing for Point Park was the coaching staff, particularly Torres himself.

“I like him a lot; he’s helped me,” Lopez said with a smile.

Currently, Lopez is studying criminal justice at Point Park with aspirations of becoming a federal agent.

Perez also left his family behind in Venezuela to pursue his baseball career in the United States. He moved to Ohio over two years ago where he began his collegiate career at a community college.

Two months ago, he moved from Ohio to Pittsburgh after being recruited by Torres to be a catcher for Point Park. He is currently a transfer junior studying international business with hopes to turn professional one day.

“This is a huge opportunity to do what you love,” Perez said.

Perez said his hard work becoming the best baseball player possible has given him the opportunity to get a degree while playing the sport that he’s played his entire life.

International player Richard Perez gets ready to throw the baseball to one of his teammates during warmups. Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service
International player Richard Perez gets ready to throw the baseball to one of his teammates during warmups. Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service

“Baseball is my passion and I’ve been playing it since I was three years old,” he said. “I love every single time I get to be on the field.”

However, Perez also noted that every day at baseball is a challenge, but it keeps him involved and is nothing he cannot handle.

Castillo, a pitcher, has been playing baseball since he was seven years old living in the Dominican Republic. His family traveled back and forth from his country to the United States for almost six years, up until this year when he moved to Pittsburgh to further his education and his love for the game.

Another attribution for Point Park baseball’s success is how practices are run. Every practice runs like a business and each player buys into the appropriate behavior – no goofing off or silliness.

“If you are told to do something and you don’t do it, you run,” Castillo said. “In the Dominican you play because you have a talent, but here you play because you have a team and have to work together.”

He has dreams of turning professional one day, but if not, his father has a water company in his home country that he would like to bring to the United States.

International player Felix Castillo practices throwing and catching during team warmups. Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service
International player Felix Castillo practices throwing and catching during team warmups. Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service

“[Point Park] is the best thing that happened in my life,” Castillo said.

Lopez, Perez and Castillo set high expectations because they have heard about former international baseball players creating their own successes with the opportunities Point Park gave to them. One of those success stories is Ricardo Cordido, who is originally from Caracas, Venezuela, but moved to the United States to pursue his baseball dreams.

“Our fields at home [in Venezuela] are bad,” Cordido said, which gave him even more motivation to get his college education and accomplish his goals.

Cordido first settled in Miami at 15 years old, where he was offered a high school scholarship and lived with five other friends in a home the principal of the school provided for them. Then, he moved to Deep Creek, Md., before finally ending up in Pittsburgh in 2010.

He reiterated that a new language and culture was difficult to adjust at first.

“The laws are different, too,” he said, which most people wouldn’t account for.

Cordido said that it may not seem like it, but the players who aren’t from the states have an advantage: They get to have better lives because at home they didn’t have these opportunities.

Before graduating in 2013, he studied business management, while playing for the baseball team. He now works for Toyota and gives the players something to look forward to after graduating.  Capobianco explained that the work ethic between the two cultures is comparable, but the men from native Spanish-speaking countries sometimes appreciate the little things more because they do not come from an area where opportunity is part of the culture.

“It’s clear they love the game and want to show us that,” he said. “We had a kid play for us a few seasons ago who was originally from Venezuela. We would give him the old equipment that we were never going to use again to take home.”

The team gathers before the start of warmups. (Richard Perez pictured center). Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service
The team gathers before the start of warmups. (Richard Perez pictured center). Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service

Torres makes it a point for the team to travel to Florida every season during spring break for the Major League Baseball’s spring training camp.

He chooses Florida because the players from South America don’t get to see their family while they attend school, and Florida is close enough for some families to travel to see their kids play. For some, this is the only chance they have to see their sons throughout the school year.

The Point Park International Office is an outlet on campus that helps the international students integrate in various different ways. The office does their best to make sure the students never feel far from home.

“We help them from the time they get off of the plane until the time they graduate and all the time in between,” Paul DiMartini, admissions advisor for the International Student Services and Enrollment Office, said. “We work alongside the Student Success Center to build their schedules and to make them comfortable.”

One of their main priorities is to plan extracurricular events that help the students adjust to life in the city.

“We host events to help them assimilate to the new culture, for instance we had a cookout in the summer” said DiMartini.

It’s a full year commitment, and attendees of the games can easily see that although borders once separated the teammates, nothing seems to separate them now. Capobianco said that it’s an eye-opener for the kids from around here, it shows them not to take things for granted.

“Not only is it an adjustment for them, it’s an adjustment for everyone because we’re diverse, but they all play for the same reason: the love of the game,” Capobianco said.

Click the picture above to view the full gallery of the Point Park baseball team. Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service.

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