Awareness is crucial. Some sports franchises are newly aware and with others the awareness has spanned generations.
With the ever-growing Hispanic population in the United States, it's crucial for almost any sports endeavor to engage that community of fans. Every team in MLB has Latino players, but the amount of outreach to Latino fans varies widely from organization to organization, geography often playing a major factor.
One of the top clubs in terms of engaging Hispanic fans has been the Los Angeles Dodgers. They had to get past a rocky start, however.
"The Dodgers have been able to overcome a complicated relationship with Latinos in L.A.," explained Priscilla Leiva, an assistant professor of Chicano Studies at Cal State Los Angeles, in an interview addressing challenges facing the "new" Los Angeles Rams. "Chavez Ravine is a site of displacement for Latinos because, after WWII, the city used eminent domain to remove the predominantly Mexican-American community for the construction of public housing. That project was canceled and the Brooklyn Dodgers secured a sweetheart deal for the land that once housed nearly 1,100 families."
It's clear that the Dodgers are now a top team in one of the nation's top Hispanic markets, so much so that the organization is hailed as a model for the rest of the league to emulate.
"The affinity to the team is very much a part of the fabric of what it means to be a Latino in Los Angeles, and as families transition from immigrants to residents they become a part of that fabric, and as such, their interest in the Dodgers becomes more and more solidified," said Jesse Nunez, the Dodgers' Spanish-language media sales manager, in an interview with online magazine Portada.
The turnaround didn't happen instantly for the Dodgers. Leiva pointed to several causes, including the Dodgers broadcasting games in Spanish starting in 1958, as well as the team making a concerted effort to sign Latino players.
A big milestone for the team and fans alike was the era of pitcher Fernando Valenzuela.
"Valenzuela captivated Mexican and Mexican-American baseball fans," Leiva noted. "'Fernandomania' ensued across the southwest. Latinos in L.A. loved Fernando because he had overcome a number of obstacles since his childhood in Etchohuaquila, Mexico."
Valenzuela wasn't just an isolated signing, either, Leiva pointed out.
"Since then, the Dodgers have had a number of Latino stars that Latino fans could relate to -- including Nomar Garciaparra from Whittier. Manny Ramirez ensued Mannymania in 2008. Today, fans love Yasiel Puig and Adrián González."
Not only stars, but also Latino role players feel welcomed on the L.A. club.
"Everybody's treated me very well, very special," Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz said. "They've helped me a lot."
The Panamanian player joined the Dodgers at midseason, after a long stint with the Phillies.
"After all my career in Philadelphia, it was very difficult to leave there. But things in baseball are like that. It's an honor to have the opportunity be in the playoffs. I'm really happy to be here. I'm happy to get to know the guys and getting them to trust me."
Ruiz has become a trusted member of the Dodgers, even deep into the postseason, catching for Kenta Maeda in the first game of the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs. The Dodgers lost that opening game, but then managed to win the second one. The series is now even, 1-1.
Coming from one of the smaller nations in Latin America, Ruiz said he is honored to represent Panama in MLB, and hopes to inspire others to follow his footsteps in the league.
"I feel really happy to have had all the years in the game and to be consistent for so long. I send a big hug to all the kids playing in Panama and hope that they continue working hard to improve and become great players, too."
Many Dodgers fans will remember Ruiz as the player who leaped into Clayton Kershaw’s arms after the Dodgers claimed the Game 5 win over the Washington Nationals to capture their NL Division Series. Besides catching for Kershaw's vital save, Ruiz also contributed a crucial home run earlier in the same series.
It has been enough to endear him to loyal L.A. fans.
"Once you're on a new team, it takes a while for the fans to get to know you," Ruiz admitted. "But they'll learn that you're here to help the team in the playoffs, and to get to a World Series. They've been good to me."
Fans respond to the players partly because they feel connected to the team via community engagement.
"The Dodgers have been adept in aiming their campaigns at Latino fans," Leiva explained. "Their My Town campaign placed billboards of players and celebrities across the region that said 'This is my town' -- or 'Esta es mi ciudad' -- throughout the city. Their Viva Los Dodgers festivals are now before every Sunday game instead of a couple times a season."
No surprise, then, that the Dodgers have a large L.A. fan contingent supporting the team as they return to Dodger Stadium for Games 3, 4 and 5 of the NLCS against the Cubs.