The Pittsburgh Pirates have Major League Baseball’s best outfield. And they’re Black. Right now, that matters.
That was my reaction to watching Starling Marte make a standard routine catch in the left outfield during some random Pirates game about two years ago.
I honestly did not know. Truth be told, I did not become a Pittsburgh Pirates fanatic until two years ago. My front-running started when I worked in a sports apparel outlet in the city. As one of the few places to purchase fan gear before games at PNC, we would be inundated with foot traffic that our little staff couldn’t always handle. We had to know game nights — for staffing — and who was popular — for sales and inventory.
If a player had a great week, we moved the jersey close to the aisle. If a player was on a slump, we put the gear in the stockroom (sorry, Pedro Alvarez). In short, we had to know what was going on.
We had Marte’s t-shirt jersey on the shelves and it sold. So when I watched a Pirates game for the first time that summer, I almost fell off of my barstool when Marte’s face graced my screen. I should not have been surprised. Major League Baseball is majorly Latino — players from the Dominican Republic (where Marte is from), Cuba, Puerto Rico and further South are all over the Majors. But he was Black like me and I honestly was not expecting that.
Then Gregory Polanco happened.
I had never witnessed the hysteria I saw when Polanco — also from the Dominican Republic — was called up from the Majors and had the first week of his life. The city was hyped. Requests for his player jersey were high, the t-shirt jersey was announced and sold quick, fast and in a hurry. And then I saw his face and his bronze skin. I knew what was about to happen.
Marte in left, McCutchen in the middle, Polanco in deep right. The Pittsburgh Pirates outfield, in the shadow of the Clemente Wall.
And they were Black. Blackity-Black-Black-Black.
The Pirates — and the city’s — history with Black baseball players is pretty fascinating. Pittsburgh hosted two Negro League teams, the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays. In 1971, the Pirates started the first all-Black lineup in baseball history. One of the players in that lineup was Roberto Clemente, the most important humanitarian in the sports’ history whose statue sits in front of PNC Park. He was Black and Puerto Rican and not afraid to let you know but he also played in a city that openly categorized him as a “Black foreigner” and made fun of his broken English.
It’s understandably easy to look at Blackness as an American racial construct. We tend to think of Black as a synonym for African-American but in reality, Blackness is a concept very alive and well in Latinx communities. And their bouts with colorism are very noted. Especially in the Dominican Republic.
In 2013, close to 200,000 Dominican-born Haitian descendants were effectively stripped of their citizenship which many tied to the bloody history between the two countries, one not wanting to be seen as Black. We even witnessed one of the greatest Dominicans baseball players, Sammy Sosa, bleach his skin. In addition, Many Latinx have written about their experiences as being the “Moreno” of the family.
So to openly identify Marte and Polanco as Black men is a stretch for some. For me, it’s not. We are all children of the African Diaspora. And to be frank, if Marte and Polanco walked down the street, unless they opened their mouths, you wouldn’t even know they were Dominican. And given what we’ve seen in the past week, their lives may not matter to law enforcement in this country either.
That is what makes this outfield more significant. In a time when Blackness is questioned and assassinated, literally and figuratively, we as a community now more than ever need powerful feats of Blackness to be shown. To uplift us, to show us what stuff we’re made of. We’re not just target practice for the police. We matter, we can’t be missed.
It doesn’t matter what you do, you cannot miss the Pirates outfield.
Starling Marte’s first half performance landed him in the 2016 All-Star Game, a first in his career. With Polanco, who has already bested his 2015 numbers in home runs and is close to beating his previous numbers in doubles, RBIs and steals and McCutchen (whose numbers are not quite where they used to be but went into the 2016 All-Star Break batting .333 and still has that MVP trophy in the case at home), the Pirates arguably have the best outfield in the Majors — an outfield that is locked down for the next five years.
And again, they are all Black. Blackity-Black-Black-Black.