Spreading their wings
When the Eugene Emeralds opened last season at PK Park, they had a Venezuelan playing first base, third base, shortstop and right field.
The starting pitcher from Mexico threw to a catcher from Panama. The second baseman was a native of the Dominican Republic.
Twenty of the 29 players on Eugene’s Opening Day roster were from Latin American countries.
“Our business represents a diverse lineup, but we don’t reflect that in the stands,” general manager Allan Benavides said.
So when Minor League Baseball announced the creation of “Copa de la Diversion” to celebrate the culture of Hispanic and Latino communities during the 2018 season, Benavides made sure Eugene was one of the 33 teams that signed on for the initial event.
“I know we don’t have as large of a Latino population as some other markets, but it is a very fast growing demographic and an important one for us to reach out to,” said Benavides, whose parents are from Nicaragua. “Our game is global. It would be great to see more diversity in our stands.”
The Emeralds will be Los Monarcas de Eugene for six games this summer while wearing special uniforms and hats designed for the Eugene Monarchs. Those games will feature Latin music at the ballpark as well as other tributes to the culture.
In addition, Eugene will add a Latin food stand to its list of eating options for all 38 home games and have a portion of its game programs written in Spanish. The team is also planning to have a Spanish broadcast on radio for all home games and hire more bilingual staff members.
“This day and age that makes a lot of sense because we are an emerging consumer market and a lot of companies recognize that,” said Phil Carrasco, the president of Grupo Latino de AcciÃ³n Directa who was consulted by the Emeralds for the project. “I am happy with the results because Allan had the forethought to reach out to many folks from the Latino community to gather input and listen to our concerns. Now it is like we have part ownership of this idea for a second identity of the Emeralds. I think it was done in a respectful fashion.”
Minor League Baseball had some recommendations for the alternate names of each team, but when Benavides saw those translated as the Explorers and Lumberjacks, he put together a focus group of Latino leaders from groups including Centro Latino Americano and Lane ESD as well as students from North Eugene High School to find a better match.
“The idea was brought up about a Monarca,” Benavides recalled. “The monarch butterfly has one of the largest migration patterns in the world through Central and South America, Mexico, the United States and Canada. It became a national symbol of migration so we decided to run with the idea.”
The next task was to design a logo which helped explain the name.
The final version includes 33 white dots on the butterfly, representing each country in Latin America, plus a pine tree to honor the Latino forestry workers, Benavides said. There is a baseball bat and wings plus an ode to Oregon with the Three Sisters peaks.
Also included was the “Ollin” symbol of the Aztec calendar that can symbolize movement and actions. There is also a bridge.
“We wanted to create a space to tell stories and enrich the community and we thought this symbol and emblem could speak to those stories and that narrative,” Carrasco said. “You see bridges, nowadays more than ever, and find it important to view ourselves as building bridges against any number of divides, whether political, racial, or economic. The ‘Ollin’, there are various ways to look at it, but one of the main ones means movement and when you consider our migration stories, that is not possible without movement.
“The monarch butterfly symbolizes the beauty of migration and you see it in the large number of people from Central America and South America and Mexico through the United States and Canada. At various points in the journey you find sanctuary. I am not using that word politically, it truly is a word used for butterflies to find sanctuary to regain some of that energy they need to continue the migration. It speaks volumes to how beautiful that migration story can be if we are narrating it in a way that is inclusive.”
Benavides recently visited spring training for the Chicago Cubs and showed off the new uniforms and hats to some of last year’s Emeralds, including Aramis Ademan of the Dominican Republic, Miguel Amaya of Panama and manager Jesus Feliciano from Puerto Rico.
“They loved it,” Benavides said. “It’s a fairly symbolic monarch — not just here — so they immediately got it.”
The Emeralds plan to auction off the uniforms at the end of the season and donate the proceeds to charity. Then they will order new ones for the 2019 season.
“This is happening every year,” Benavides said. “This isn’t a one-and-done Mexican Heritage Night. We want to be all-in.
“When we put this logo together we wanted to reach the right audience and be impactful. We didn’t do this to have the No. 1 logo, we’d like it to be, but more important for us was to bring a new audience in.”