CINCINNATI - The Cincinnati Reds plan a colorful, music-filled tribute to Hispanic heritage and culture at Thursday night's game with the Chicago Cubs.
Salsa bands will play, and costumed dancers from Central and South America and an honor guard carrying flags from all Spanish-speaking countries will be part of the festivities marking the beginning of the national Hispanic Heritage month and the Reds' own celebration that has become an annual event. The Reds say their Latino players will be recognized for charitable and on-field achievements, while Chiquita Brands International CEO Fernando Aquirre will pitch in as public address announcer.
"It's nice that they give us a day," said Miguel Cairo, a veteran player born in Venezuela. "It's nice to be part of a team that puts so much importance on having Latin players. We have a lot of guys from different countries."
The Reds include starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, closer Francisco Cordero, relief pitcher Jose Arredondo and infielder Juan Francisco from the Dominican Republic; catcher Ramon Hernandez of Venezuela, infielder Edgar Renteria of Colombia, and Cuban-born pitcher Aroldis Chapman and infielder-outfielder Yonder Alonso. The Reds' Cuba connection goes back to the early 20th century, when Cuban-born pitcher Dolf Luque was a star, and continued in the 1970s with Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez.
Perez reflected on his transition to the United States in the early 1960s in a panel discussion two years ago during the MLB Civil Rights Game weekend in Cincinnati. Perez recounted that after a surprising exposure to prejudice in the then-segregated South, he was warmly received in Cincinnati. Perez is considered one of the most popular players in team history.
The region's Hispanic population remains small but fast-growing -- 3.1 percent of Ohio's overall population is Hispanic -- but Cairo said local people help Hispanics feel comfortable.
"They welcomed me and my family," said Cairo, in his second season as a Red. "There are only great things I can say about that."
AP freelance writer Mark Schmetzer contributed to this report.