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MLB/MiLB Diversity in 2017: An Update

Charlotte CaballerosIf you’re been around the game of baseball for awhile, you know that diversity in a long-standing issue for owners, management and commissioners. Recently, however, there’s been an increased activity toward addressing the issue. Here’s a roundup.

We’re discussing diversity on the business side of the equation; how to make the game less white on the playing field is a whole separate topic with a different set of solutions. And when we discuss diversity, we’re talking about several underrepresented groups in team and league offices, dugouts and in baseball’s fan bases.

There are plenty of talented women working in Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and independent baseball; there just are not enough of them. (For a good look at a talented person working in baseball, check out this profile of Southern Maryland Blue Crabs GM Courtney Knichel.) For MLB, diversity is always an issue, with several talented folks like Tyrone Brooks working hard to bring women and minorities into the game. Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times profiles how these efforts have changed how the Los Angeles Dodgers hire. More effort is needed, obviously, but the Dodgers are a profile of how smart front offices recognize talent no matter where it comes from. Still, a lot more work is needed:

[Kim] Ng, the league’s senior vice president of baseball operations, said she has appreciated and enjoyed a “great career” but remains hopeful of landing a general manager job. She also said she believed a woman — if not her, someone else — eventually would be hired as a general manager.

“It’s not coming as quickly as anybody who’s interested in the subject wants it to,” she said.

“I wish we, as an industry, were more focused on it. I do think a lot of initiatives where you’re trying to get the underrepresented represented have to come from the top of an organization. They have to be committed to that idea, in order to drive meaningful change.”

On the Minor League side, New Orleans Baby Cakes GM Augusto “Cookie” Rojas addresses the same lack of diversity while also working to change it. Rojas has a fascinating story — he dropped out of law school to work in sports management — and he’s worked his way up from ushering at Pawtucket Red Sox games to successfully overseeing a host of changes to New Orleans Triple-A team. From

Beyond taking on the responsibility of revitalizing the league and rebranding the team from the Zephyrs to the New Orleans Baby Cakes, Rojas is also working towards diversifying the staff….

The relative lack of diversity in management plagues the major leagues as much as the minor leagues. A report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport from April showed the season began with only three managers of color in Major League Baseball.

“There is an imbalance between the number of minority players and the lack of minorities on the business end of this sport,” Rojas said. But that’s something he sees as a challenge, and an issue to correct for others seeking to break into management in the sport.

Finally, Minor League Baseball today announced Es Divertido Ser Un Fan, a new multi-cultural fan engagement platform aimed at specifically connecting with Hispanic/Latino baseball fans in 160 markets throughout the U.S. and Canada. Here’s the press release:

The program will debut this August in select MiLB markets, including Las Vegas, Charlotte, North Carolina; Kane County, Illinois; and Visalia, California, with a national expansion planned for 2018.

The Es Divertido Ser Un Fan initiative expands MiLB’s fan-centric marketing campaign It’s Fun to be a Fan, unveiled in March. The Spanish-translated campaign provides teams with an additional option to better connect with and engage fans in culturally-relevant ways.

The most recent ESPN Sports Poll report found that more than 18.2 million U.S. Hispanic/Latino individuals identify themselves as MiLB fans, or 17.2 percent of MiLB’s overall self-designated fan base.

“One of the pillars of Minor League Baseball is to create an environment where all individuals feel welcome and included in our ballparks,” said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner. “It is important to us that our teams are reflective of the communities in which they reside, offering a memorable entertainment experience for all members of those communities.”

With years of research and quantifiable filters helping guide the strategic plan, MiLB targeted the four aforementioned communities as ideal markets to launch the initiative in 2017. Each participating team depicts a unique subset of the U.S. Hispanic/Latino population, with the four markets serving as a representative cross-section of the total U.S. Hispanic/Latino populace.

To reflect the unique characteristics of their respective fan bases, participating teams have the option to showcase their communities’ distinctive personas through logos on caps and jerseys.

The Las Vegas 51s will take the field as the Las Vegas Reyes de Plata (“Silver Kings”), celebrating the city and state’s pioneering history at the forefront of the precious metal mining business that continues to define the Silver State today.

“The Reyes de Plata name plays off the fact that Nevada is the Silver State and embraces the impact and history that the Hispanic/Latino community had early in the precious metals mining industry that ultimately made Nevada state-worthy during the final months of the Civil War. The Tuesday re-branding that will occur during August games is something that is unique in professional sports and goes beyond one-off heritage nights,” said Las Vegas 51s General Manager Chuck Johnson.

Per Nielsen and Pew Research, in the past 15 years, the 10 U.S. states with the fastest-growing U.S. Hispanic/Latino populations were home to 45 MiLB teams. One of those states is North Carolina, and Charlotte is one of the fastest-growing emerging Hispanic markets in the country.

“We look forward to introducing the Charlotte Caballeros, and fans will notice the Caballeros’ name and associated themes integrated in their experiences at BB&T Ballpark and in the community,” said Charlotte Knights’ General Manager Rob Egan. “We will feature special concession items, public address announcements in Spanish, player features on the video board and a festival with live music during our introductory weekend of August 18-20. Additionally, we will be strengthening our bond with the Latin American Chamber of Commerce Charlotte and the Puerto Rican Cultural Society of Charlotte, as well as volunteering and raising funds for Circle de Luz, a group whose mission is to empower Hispanic girls and young women through mentoring, programming and educational scholarships.”

Of the five counties surrounding Chicago’s Cook County, Kane County, Illinois, has the largest population of U.S. Hispanic residents.

“Our goal has always been to provide affordable, family fun for all area residents,” said Kane County Cougars Vice President and General Manager Curtis Haug. “Our Spanish-language outreach will encourage even more families to enjoy Kane County Cougars baseball.”

As the 14-largest U.S. Hispanic/Latino DMA, Visalia, California, boasts a prominent Mexican-American farming community, and a long-standing position as one of the premier dairy-producing regions of the world. The Visalia Rawhide, who will become the Visalia Toros (“Bulls”), saw this program as an opportunity to further engage their Hispanic/Latino fan base.

“The team’s rebranding pays homage to California’s Central Valley agricultural empire and the people who make it a wonderful place to call home,” said Jennifer Reynolds, General Manager of the Visalia Rawhide. “To kick off this year-long celebration, we will host Taquiza y Toros so that everyone can enjoy great family-friendly entertainment at our ballpark, no matter what language he or she speaks.”

Fans can join the Es Divertido Ser Un Fan conversation, share their experiences and exchange stories using the hashtags #MiLBEsDivertido and #MiLBIsFun.

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