MISSION, Texas – Anyone attending the much-lauded “Leagues Of Our Own” exhibit that has just opened at the Mission Historical Museum Annex will no longer find any memorabilia on Mission baseball legend Bernardo Peña prior to 1940.
That is because the owner of the collection, Bernardo Peña’s daughter Maria Ester Peña Salinas, has asked the City of Mission to remove the items.
“I was not asked to be part of this exhibit and I did not give permission for anything in the private collection to be used,” Salinas said. “I consider it theft.”
The “Leagues Of Our Own” baseball exhibition opened last Friday and runs until September.
Salinas said she was notified by a friend that her father was being featured in the exhibit. She said she immediately contacted Mission’s assistant city manager, David Flores, and got one historic item removed. She said she then sent a text to Mission Mayor Norie Gonzalez Garza to ask that three other items be removed.
“My father played an important role in the development of baseball in the Rio Grande Valley. I can assure you that all the photos and artifacts about his playing, coaching and promoting before 1940 belong to our private collection,” Salinas said.
“It is very sad that the Museum committee chose to exhibit items from the private collection without contacting me.”
Born in Rio Grande City in 1901, Bernardo Peña often played at nearby Fort Ringgold. It was there that he learned English and how to play baseball from the stationed soldiers. By the age of six, Peña became the water and batboy for their games, and his enthusiasm for the sport only grew. In 1921, he traveled to San Antonio to try out for their teams and impressed recruiters with his pitching skills and his proficiency in English. Though he was able to play on some semi-pro teams, he faced much discrimination, his daughter said.
Peña eventually decided to form a team in Laredo with Black and Latino players he met and befriended. They traveled to Mexico and played against their teams, sparking the interest of Mexican President Alvaro Obregon, who tasked Peña with recruiting more players. Peña scouted players from Cuba, Puerto Rico and other Latin countries as well as those in the Negro Leagues. He gained fame as he continued to promote, recruit and play for teams in Mexico and South Texas. For his contributions to baseball, Peña was posthumously inducted into the Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.
Asked how the Mission Historical Museum committee might have gotten hold of items from her private collection, Salinas said she once allowed a small portion of the collection to be shown at an event at UT-Pan American over 15 years ago.
“I agreed to allow some of the collection to be shown there provided no one took photos. Obviously, someone did,” Salinas said.
Salinas is working on a documentary and book about her illustrious father.
Here is an audio interview with Salinas:
Manuel Hinojosa, a member of the Mission Historical Museum’s board of directors, said it was a shame Bernardo Peña would not be featured in “Leagues Of Our Own.”
“You cannot tell the story by taking players out. You have to have everybody involved,” Hinojosa said.
Geoffrey Alger, exhibits coordinator for Mission Historical Museum, said he thought Salinas had been contacted about donating to the exhibit.
“I think we reached out to her as a museum. We also put out a call to the public for assistance. I don’t know if she responded or not. I don’t think so,” Alger said.
A flyer for the exhibit states:
“Baseball made its way to the Lower Rio Grande Valley in the 1800s when soldiers stationed at forts Brown and Ringgold introduced the sport,” a flyer for the exhibit states.
“Public games between local teams became a popular form of entertainment and helped unite the community in the absence of radio and televisions. As the population of the Valley grew in the 1910s and 1920s, baseball’s popularity increased.
“With minimal equipment required, impromptu games among friends could be played in any open space. From the 1920s to the 1950s, baseball was at its peak in the Valley, with local teams represented in multiple professional minor leagues and various youth leagues also gaining popularity.
“However, the advent of television in the 1950s and 1960s led to a shift in entertainment preferences, moving spectator sport to indoor settings. Despite this, baseball and softball remain popular in South Texas, with the early to mid-1900s considered the glory days of baseball.”
Editor’s Note: Click here to read and listen to the first story the Rio Grande Guardian posted about the “Leagues Of Our Own” exhibit.
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