The fans react

Ex-Cubs star `coming to Baltimore is grand slam'

The Sosa Trade

Latino Community Latino Community

February 03, 2005|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Within an hour of Sammy Sosa's check-in at a downtown Baltimore hotel, word of the Dominican star's presence rippled through the city Tuesday evening -particularly among Latin Americans - like waves from a stone tossed into still water.

Listeners to Jose Ruiz, who plays classic salsa music on 88.9 FM for four hours until midnight each Tuesday "repeatedly brought Sammy's name up between songs," Ruiz said. "They're saying, `Sammy Sosa coming to Baltimore is a grand slam for the Latino community.' Hopefully, all of Baltimore will embrace him."

Adrianna Castillo, an employee at the Latin Palace restaurant and bar in Fells Point, believes the Chicago Cub-turned-Baltimore Oriole will become as regular a visitor as are his new teammates - Javy Lopez, Melvin Mora and Sosa's Dominican countryman, Miguel Tejada.

Sosa's arrival had been a hot topic in Lamarr Shields' Spanish class of African-American 12-year-olds at the Connections Leadership Academy middle school in West Baltimore, who "discussed Sammy Sosa as a role model with a similar story to many of their own" on Tuesday morning.

Sammy Sosa "is a man who grew up in an impoverished environment with a low literacy rate and who kind of looks like [Shields' students] except that he speaks a different language," said Shields, 34.

"When someone of his stature comes to the city," Shields said, "more folks are going to be drawn into what's going on in the Latino community."

Castillo expects to see Sosa often at the Latin Palace - its Carribean motif includes a colorful foyer lined with palm trees and flags from nearly every Latin American country - which is often a gathering place for Spanish-speaking baseball players.

"The Latin players love to come here. They can go upstairs and just chill," said Castillo, pointing to an upper level consisting of a lounge and a cigar room, where she has waited on players such as Tejada, Mora and Lopez.

"This is a Dominican-Puerto Rican type of bar, so I know he's going to be seen here. Sammy Sosa's been a hot topic around here tonight. The whole Spanish community is excited."

With Rafael Palmeiro, Tejada, Mora, Lopez and, now, Sosa, in their lineup, Ruiz said the Orioles "need to do a little bit more to market their team to the Latino community.

"We have a high dropout rate, kids who are struggling. We need [the Latin American Orioles] as role models speaking to the little Latino students in their schools and their neighborhoods," said Ruiz, 54, a community activist and a liaison to Mayor Martin O'Malley. "I'd be happy to lead them by the hand to do this."

Calling Sosa "a national hero," Latin Palace owner Enrique Ribadeneira agreed that Sosa's presence "should really help the Latino community to be more attracted to the Baltimore Orioles."

"The last couple of years, the media has been very difficult on him," said Ribadeneira, reflecting the sentiment he often hears from customers. "I believe Sammy wanted to end his career as a Cub, but we love that the next step in his career has brought him here where maybe he can maybe be his old self again."

"I believe we're going to have the best baseball team now," said Kendrick Scipio, 20, who has a Puerto Rican background and works at a laundromat adjacent to the Latin Palace.

"Our city never gets any recognition, but now, Sammy Sosa can bring us that. I just hope the media doesn't keep trying to dirty up his name and his image."

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