Latino baseball pioneer 'Chico' Fernandez remembered

Breaking barriers or being first isn't easy. The history of baseball provides us with hundreds of examples, including "Chico" Fernandez.

Former MLB player Humberto "Chico" Fernandez died Saturday at age 84 from stroke complications. Bill Dow wrote this obituary for the Detroit Free Press. The Cuban player was the first regular starting Latino player for the Detroit Tigers and the first Latino player for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Fernandez's role as a baseball pioneer was often a difficult one. His career, mostly as a shortstop, spanned from 1956 to 1963. He hit .240 with 40 home runs. Fernandez was known for his sharp defense, hustle and daring on the field. He once audaciously stole home against the New York Yankees.

Though baseball's color line was already broken, Fernandez still had to navigate discrimination in American society. He recounted to the Free Press an incident when he was made to eat in the kitchen of a restaurant while his teammates ate in the dining area. "I went through some hell, but I loved playing baseball," said Fernandez.

One way Fernandez coped was to reach out to his teammates who were in similar circumstances. Jake Wood, who played second base alongside Fernandez and was the first starting African-American player for the Tigers to come through Detroit’s minor league system, told the Free Press, "Being a minority, Chico was very helpful to me when I was first called up."

Born in Havana and signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers while still a teenager, Fernandez is enshrined in the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame.

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