MISSION, Texas – Bernardo Peña may not be a household name, but his influence in the world of baseball, particularly for Latinos, will soon be recognized in an upcoming documentary. Maria Ester Peña Salinas, the late Peña’s daughter, shared her excitement about the project and recounted how her father blazed the trail for many minority players from the 1920s to the 1950s.
Born in Rio Grande City in 1901, 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.
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.
Salinas says she is glad her father’s story will finally be told and hopes more stories like his will be spotlighted in the future.
“Most of the history has been torn or there has not been an interest in writing or giving credit to our men of color,” said Salinas. “And, it’s important that we let history know we were discriminated against royally, but yet we had tremendous athletes.”
Before his passing in 1969, Peña collected a treasure trove of mementos from his baseball days. Salinas estimates that there are over 800 artifacts, including photos, uniforms, and correspondence between her father and baseball legends like Ray Parnell, Satchel Paige and Chester Williams. These will be featured in the yet-to-be-named documentary.
Joe L. Martinez, a local filmmaker, will be producing the project. He says there is such an abundance of material that he will have trouble condensing it all for a feature length screening.
“I’m excited to start on this project,” said Martinez. “But, I’m not surprised because there’s so much history in the Rio Grande Valley. There’s so many great stories to be told. And, I’m glad – I’m excited – that Ester and I made the connection and that we are going to be working on this great project.”
The movie is currently in pre-production with Martinez and Salinas gathering more information and garnering support from local entities.
“We hope to be able to start a communication so that we can store up interest in what the Rio Grande Valley baseball players had to offer in the history of baseball,” said Salinas. “…There’s a lot of rich memories of a lot of history here in the Valley, and it’s about time that we share this history.”
Editor’s Note: The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service will display more photos and artifacts of baseball trailblazer Bernardo Peña as the documentary on him develops.
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