Mets represent diversity
Team of many cultures shows impact of civil rights movement
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Spanish chatter filled one corner of the clubhouse at Tradition Field, and David Wright's voice could barely be heard above the din.
"We have a group of people from different backgrounds, who speak different languages, come from different cultures, and all of us have come together for a common goal," Wright said. "I think that's a good example not only in baseball, but in life."
It's also much of the reason why the Mets, along with the White Sox, were chosen to participate in this weekend's Civil Rights Game in Memphis, Tenn. This is a team with a black manager, a Latino general manager, and roster representatives from throughout the world. In a game honoring equality throughout America, the Mets were a perfect fit.
Their starting rotation alone includes an ace from Venezuela, a legend from the Dominican Republic, a lefty from Mexico and a young star from Virginia. If Orlando Hernandez can crack the rotation this summer, add a Cuban defector to that list. If the starting lineup is considered, then the Puerto Rican influence grows. In every corner of the Mets clubhouse, different nationalities have meshed, and the result is a team that's expected to contend for a World Series title. Civil rights helped create that reality.
"Diversity has always meant a lot to me," said general manager Omar Minaya, the director of this melting pot. "Growing up in New York as a kid, diversity was important, and it has always been important to me and to our organization, and ownership, too."
There is, however, one minority group in which the Mets, and much of baseball, are lacking -- and it's the one that will be honored most directly on Saturday.
By focusing on civil rights, baseball has an opportunity to perhaps draw more young black players to the game. That's no easy task, but certainly a necessary one.
"I don't look around and ask what's going on," said Marlon Anderson, one of two black players on the current Mets roster. "I think I know what's going on. It's something that needs to be addressed, and a lot of people have tried to address it in a lot of different ways. There's no one solution. I think it's going to take a lot of people working together and going out and doing things with baseball within the black community. Until that happens, nothing's going to change."
This game is a step in that direction. It's a symbol of progress, and a recognition of how radically different the country is for blacks today than it was 50 years ago. So it's only fitting that the Civil Rights Game will take place in Memphis, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination -- and now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum.
Anderson noted that even more than Saturday's game, he was anxious to visit the Civil Rights Museum, and to gain a new understanding of what his ancestors once had to endure. He'll be among a group of Mets players and coaches who will make the museum their first stop after they land in Memphis.
"I wouldn't say I'm a history buff," said Damion Easley. "But I'd definitely like to know about that history -- not just about baseball, but the United States. The struggles -- I want to appreciate all that."
In that sense, these Mets will be no different than the thousands of fans who pile into the city for Saturday's game. They're here to discover, to learn, and -- of course -- to play a little baseball. It's just that the baseball might not be what they remember most.
That goes for John Maine, Saturday's starting pitcher, as much as anyone. Maine needs only to dart his eyes around the clubhouse to see what effect minority groups have had on baseball. He's simply honored to do his part on celebrating that growth.
"The whole civil rights movement, and everything like that, is important," Maine said. "I don't see how it can't be. Two teams get to play in this game and I'm just glad we're one of them. It will be good to go out there for a few innings and represent the whole idea behind the game."
For one night, all of baseball will focus on Maine and the Mets, simply because of what they'll represent. That doesn't happen often in Spring Training, during which the games never count and the stats rarely matter.
Yet the meaning of this game penetrates far deeper, and the Mets know it. That's why they don't mind traveling for hours just to play in an exhibition, logging mile after mile at a most taxing time of year. For this game, and this cause, it's well worth the sacrifice.
"It's a good thing for baseball, a good thing for the black community and it's definitely an easy chore," Anderson said. "Coming up to the season, nobody likes having exhibition games in different places and traveling all over. But for me, this is an easy one."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.