Diamondbacks make Latino fan outreach top priority

La Maxima Sonora performs live on site at the 2016 Hispanic Heritage festival hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Photo by Giselle Cancio/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Just hours away from the Mexican border, the Diamondbacks celebrated Hispanic heritage with a pregame festival for their fans Saturday at Chase Field.

But that heritage is represented by more than just the team’s fan base.

Nine of the 34 players currently on Arizona’s active roster – and one inactive, injured player – hail from Latin American nations. The proportion isn’t an outlier; a report by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport stated that 28.5 percent of players on MLB’s 2016 Opening Day rosters identified themselves as Latino.

Diamondbacks pitcher Randall Delgado is in his sixth big-league season and his fourth with Arizona. He was born in Panama, and has previously played in the Dominican Winter League.

He commended the Diamondbacks’ effort to connect with Hispanic fans.

“It feels pretty good,” he said. “It’s really nice for the team doing that – trying to get a lot fans from everywhere, not just here in America but Mexico, every Latin place.”

Delgado, a 26-year-old right-hander, compared his experience in the U.S. to the other workplaces of his career.

“It was a little bit different at the beginning, like the first couple years I was here,” Delgado said. “But I think it’s about the same. It’s just a bit different crowd. Some places they scream more, but it doesn’t matter. But either way, it’s really good.”

Delgado joined fans for photos and a meet-and-greet session at Saturday’s Hispanic Heritage Day Street Festival, the latest event in the team’s Hispanic outreach efforts. In years past, the team has traveled to Hermosillo, Mexico, to play exhibition games during spring training.

“I had some friends that said it was a really good experience,” said Delgado, who has yet to join the Diamondbacks on a trip to Mexico. “I think it was the first time over there that they did that. So the people there enjoyed it and were really happy. So that’s encouraging for us to maybe do it next year or try to make it more often.”

Delgado’s teammate, relief pitcher Silvino Bracho, is from Maracaibo, Venezuela. Now in his fifth year in the Diamondbacks organization, Bracho has played in the U.S., Canada and the Dominican Republic.

“When it comes to my first time to the United States, that’s awesome,” he said. “It’s a dream. So, when we find more guys like Latin guys in the United States, that’s good. Especially we have like (David) Peralta. Last year we had Ender Inciarte. So we feel comfortable. Right now, the team is awesome. My teammates, the other guys, they are with us.”

Bracho joined Delgado in appearing at the street festival, which featured Mexican food, Latin American music and activities before the Diamondbacks played host to the San Francisco Giants. The first 20,000 fans attending the game received a free “Los Diamondbacks” soccer jersey.

Fans of different cultural backgrounds took part in the attractions, as did at least one member of the musical talent, Israel Aguilar, who came off the stage to try the food and games with his family.

“We live in a state where it’s a borderland state to Mexico, so it’s really cool that they take that and notice and make something for people of that race to come out,” said Aguilar.

Chase Field is about 180 miles from the Nogales Port of Entry at the U.S.-Mexico border. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 30.7 percent of Arizona’s population was Hispanic or Latino in 2015.

Alexandra Johnson, a patron of Saturday’s festival who is Hispanic, said she appreciates the Diamondbacks reaching out.

“I think that they recognize what the majority of the community is here in Arizona and us being so close to the border here,” she said. “It is nice to be appreciated and recognized for that on a bigger scale.”