WHEN YOENIS CESPEDES walks to the plate in Oakland, he is alone, 3,000 miles from his native Cuba. Most of the A's faithful cheering him on don't speak his language -- a barrier that will follow him back into the dugout. But as his walk-up song blares over the Coliseum speakers, Cespedes is transported to Campechuela. That's the beauty of music's relationship with baseball: It is a personal expression, chosen not for the fans but by the player. And as five Latino ballplayers explain here, these international anthems are more than songs -- they are links to the culture they left behind and a connection to the crowd welcoming them to a new home.
Walk-out music: "El Animal," Gente de Zona
As told to Stacey Pressman
I am one of the few Latin players on the A's, so connecting with my culture keeps me grounded and is a constant reminder of my home, where all my friends and family still live. I chose the song "El Animal," by Gente de Zona, because for one, Animal is a nickname that I have from my hometown of Campechuela in Granma, Cuba, but also because the song talks about growing up in a humble environment, which resonates with me. I always want to stay humble.
My teammates are respectful of my music and don't seem to have a problem with it. In fact, I see fans and even my teammates, who probably do not understand what my song says, bob their heads to the beat. I actually think music can bring us together. I'm pretty new to the league, but with the growing number of Latin players and the music blaring loud at the ballparks, it's a great way for Latin music to get exposure.
And I actually do listen to some English music. It helps me learn the language. But when I want to get in a good mood, I listen to salsa -- that usually does it for me.
"Son de la Negra," Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán
As told to Molly Knight
My parents are Mexican, and our fan base is pretty heavily populated with Hispanics, so it is really cool to run out to something and have everyone just be really loud. The first time I ran out to "Son de la Negra," I stepped on the mound and looked up at the Jumbotron and saw a whole bunch of fans dancing around in sombreros. And I thought, Wow. Damn. This is fun.
Everyone has embraced my song, and I get so much love from the fans for it. They're just really proud. They tell me they can't believe I used it and how they're really proud I've honored my heritage.
I don't want to change my song, because everyone embraces it, but I might because I have a different role this year. Now that I am no longer the closer and I won't be coming into the game in the ninth inning, I feel like I can mix it up a little bit. I really like Mumford & Sons right now -- their energy is awesome. I love their loudness and their aliveness. It's unreal.
Third base, Dodgers
Various Latin songs
As told to Molly Knight
I'm a Mexican guy, and my music helps me remember home. When I'm in the clubhouse or on the way to the ballpark, singing helps me forget. I like a lot of U.S. music, but it's important to me to play music from my culture when I'm playing. I asked all my fans on Twitter what I should choose, and they picked my song for me. Honestly, I think they're more into me because my music makes them feel like I'm one of them. They always try to hug me, and they tell me it makes them remember home.
A lot of fans here are from my area in Sonora, Mexico, too, so it's special. I choose music from there, and it feels good to have that connection. And all of the fans seem to like the Latin music even if they don't know what they're singing.
Designated hitter, Red Sox
"King of Diamonds" and "Stay Schemin'," Rick Ross
As told to Enrique Rojas
I remember the first time I traveled to the United States and left my home. Being far away from my parents, relatives and friends, and far from the only place I knew, I could only take what fit in my backpack, including my favorite CDs. It was very hard. But leaving the Dominican Republic helped me to love our music even more. Until then, I didn't know that music could help heal so many things, like nostalgia or sadness, and that it wasn't only to celebrate.
I can proudly proclaim that I am the musical director in the Red Sox clubhouse. After all, I bought the radio we use in the dugout. But I'm not selfish; besides choosing the music, I listen to the guys' opinions. The clubhouse staff helps me select the musical menu, and I'd like to recognize that last season I received great help from rookie Will Middlebrooks. But in general, the guys listen to whatever I play. Some of them get a bit upset sometimes, but in the end they understand that it's a matter of rank.
I'd never had the privilege of choosing music before in my career. When I came up to the majors with the Twins in 1997, Latin music did not dominate clubhouses like now. I didn't dare touch the radio, first of all because I was a rookie, and second, because they never played Latin music. But things have changed a lot in the last 20 years as more Latin singers and rhythms have become hits in English.
My kids were born in the U.S. and are growing up in a mixed culture. In my house, it's normal to hear Rihanna, Beyonce and Justin Bieber, but also Shakira, Pitbull, Marc Anthony and popular merengue and salsa acts.
I think reggaeton deserves special recognition since it's one of those Latin beats that can be enjoyed by Latinos and Americans because you don't need to understand the lyrics -- you just let yourself move to the rhythm.
I have recorded several songs in Spanish and English, and I enjoyed it a lot. In a way, I am a frustrated musician. What's more, I think that if I wasn't playing baseball, I would be in a big band. The dream of any poor boy from my country is to play baseball or sing in a big band.
A song I always have with me is "Regreso" ["Return"], from Puerto Rico's Conjunto Clásico. That song breaks my heart. It reminds me of my late mother, of the first time I had to leave my country to play and of many other things. But more than anything, music is happiness. For us Latinos, music and happiness are in our blood. That's why we're able to overcome bigger obstacles in all aspects of life.
Third base, Phillies
"No Sleep Till Brooklyn," Beastie Boys
As told to Kat O'Brien
My walk-out song is usually something by the Beastie Boys. They've been a big part of my life musically, but it depends on my mood.
You can't help but hear Latin music going to a stadium, because it's part of every game. That's one thing about baseball -- the diversity. You can have one guy come out to hip-hop, another guy from the South go straight country, another pick reggaeton and another have something rock or Top 40. Same thing is true in the clubhouse; in baseball you can have five or six different cultures in the same clubhouse. [Young's mother is of Mexican descent.]
Last season in Texas, we gave the keys to the iPod to Elvis Andrus [the Rangers' Venezuelan-born shortstop]. He would play everything from reggaeton to rock to pop to metal. He made sure there was something for everybody. If one American guy is bobbing his head to Elvis' reggaeton, it can make a young Latin player feel more comfortable. Or if the Dominican guy who doesn't speak much English shows an interest in an English-language song, it shows some effort to reach out. It's actually a great way to cross cultures.