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New England Latino Baseball Series uplifts culture

Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr. | 7/23/2008, 5:47 a.m.
Dave Valdez looks on as his Dominican all-star team plays against the Yawkey League All-Stars. Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr.

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The Dominican all-star team prepares to take the field against the Yawkey League All-Stars, who would go on to win a hard-fought game, 8-6. (Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr. photo)

After their 8-6 loss to the Yawkey League All-Stars two weeks ago, Dave Valdez’s team of Dominican all-stars had dropped four straight in the inaugural New England Latino Baseball Series. But if the Medford businessman and Dominican squad manager was upset, it didn’t show.

“It’s doesn’t matter, wins, losses,” said Valdez, sporting a large grin as he spoke to the Banner after the loss. “This was an exhibition game for the fans.”

Now, with the final pitch thrown in the seven-game exhibition series between a team of Dominican-born players and semi-pro squads from Massachusetts and Connecticut, Valdez can smile about accomplishing his goal: to pay tribute to Latino culture while giving ballplayers of Dominican heritage a chance to get noticed.

Dominican second baseman Kirk Sencion said the outpouring of support was overwhelming.

“Crowd support has been great,” said Sencion, who was spectacular defensively against the Yawkey League. “We’ve had packed bleachers at each game.”

The same was true at Roxbury’s Jim Rice Field in Ramsay Park, as a diverse crowd of onlookers cheered for both teams in an excellent showing of local support for the Dominican all-stars.

Several rounds of handshakes and hugs preceded the game, as Latino players from the Boston area caught up with family and friends. The atmosphere was relaxed and jovial, with jokes being cracked around the diamond in both Spanish and English and even such familiar traits as pre-game jitters all but evaporating — at least in Sencion’s case.

“[I’m] not nervous. I’ve done this, gone through this too many times before to be nervous,” he said before the game started. “I would like to get started though.”

The game featured a festive ambiance, as music was played during changeovers between innings and when either team hit a home run, and fans feasted on hot dogs and popcorn.

The Dominican all-stars came out firing, jumping out to an early 3-0 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth inning. But Dominican starting pitcher Juan Rivera faltered, giving up five runs in that inning and staking the Yawkey team to a 5-3 lead.

The Dominican squad battled back to tie the game at 6 before giving up two runs in the bottom of the eighth, and they couldn’t touch Yawkey League closer Scot Rogers, who took over in the top half of the ninth and set down the Dominicans to seal the victory.

After the Boston game, Valdez spoke highly of his team.

“We played well,” he said. “There are some things we need to fix, but we’re gonna win the next three.”

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. The Dominican team lost to the Danbury Westerners in Danbury, Conn., by the score of 8-4 on July 13, and went down to the Holyoke Blue Sox, 12-0, in Holyoke on July 14. The result was the same in the series’ final game, a 13-2 loss to the Lowell All-Americans in Lowell on July 15.

Despite going winless in the series, there have been positives for the Dominican squad, according to Valdez. Chief among them, several players have signed with New England Collegiate Baseball League teams, including catcher Alejandro Crisostomo, outfielder/pitcher Leonardo Vilorio, first baseman Audri Acosta, and outfielder Julian Alvarez.

Perhaps more important, there was a feeling of unity among the fans and the teams at the Boston game that was replicated throughout the series, as baseball fans stood and applauded the Dominican team for displaying their talents and representing their culture and heritage so well.

“The cultural sharing is more important than winning,” said Valdez.