When Luis Valbuena the left-handed batter for the Los Angeles Angels went missing from the roster for a few days in March, sportswriters speculated he was injured again. After all, he missed more than a month last season for a hamstring pull. But it was soon reported that this Venezuelan immigrant, known for “flipping his bat” had traveled to Florida to take his U.S. citizenship test.
At the start of baseball season last year a record 29.8 percent of major leaguers were born outside the 50 states. While players come from over 20 countries, most came from the Dominican Republic, which led with 93 players, Venezuela was next with 77 and Cuba third with 23.
Major League Baseball teams as well as other professional sports teams embrace diversity, value their foreign born teammates and recognize the importance of encouraging citizenship in their teams and in their communities. For New Americans Campaign (NAC) partners, joining forces with professional teams is an effective way of reaching out to and encouraging lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to start their own citizenship application process. Download the Best Practices Toolkit on Partnerships with Professional Sports for a wealth of tips.
Perhaps the most ambitious collaboration in recent years was between the Miami NAC and the Marlins, which culminated in the first naturalization mega workshop hosted by a Major League Baseball team. Organized by Miami site leader Catholic Legal Services of the Archdiocese of Miami and the eight Miami NAC partners it took 6 months and more than $30,000 to pull off. The payoff was a momentous day when more than 1,500 individuals took their first steps toward citizenship in the stadium and 50 people from 16 countries took the oath of citizenship in the stands. The media attention alone was a home run.
But teaming up can be more modest as well. Learn how the Detroit NAC (DNAC) began its ongoing relationship with the Detroit Tigers in 2015. At first their collaboration was a DNAC PSA that aired on the Jumbotron at Comerica Park during the “¡Fiesta Tigres!” event. The following year the Tigers also hosted a citizenship ceremony on their ball field. The Tigers now express support for DNAC with free baseball tickets for volunteer appreciation and networking events.
For Bonding Against Adversity, in Houston, it took persistence to find entrée to the Houston Dynamos professional soccer team. After they got a response from the sales office, they eventually held a “Soccer for Citizenship” event on Constitution Day, and in exchange for selling discounted tickets, Bonding Against Adversity was allowed to set up an information table inside the stadium during the season closing game, where they passed out flyers and recruited new volunteers. It was more work than Bonding Against Adversity had anticipated, but they successfully gained new visibility.
It takes time and effort to build these relationships, but when they are formed NAC partners have learned that the bonds are long lasting. There are plenty of useful tips in the tool kit on how to begin. Like this one:
TIP: Before approaching a team, research if a current or former player from the team has recently naturalized.
Look for players like the left-handed slugger from Venezuela who appreciates the importance of citizenship; and look for the teams that are proud of their team’s new Americans. When Luis Valbuena returned from Florida, he told the LA Times that he had passed the test and become a U.S. Citizen, “I’m so happy, because I’ve been studying a lot, and now I see the result,” he said. NAC partners can provide ways to cheer on athletes, and provide information and legal support to sports fans that are beginning the road to citizenship and this toolkit is a great place to start. Go Valbuena! Go NAC! Knock it out of the park!