¡Ser un fan! is a content series designed to spotlight and embrace the people, programs, culture and stories that champion Copa de la Diversión's community impact and further advance Minor League Baseball's continuous efforts to diversify the game and business of baseball.Since the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps' inaugural season
¡Ser un fan! is a content series designed to spotlight and embrace the people, programs, culture and stories that champion Copa de la Diversión's community impact and further advance Minor League Baseball's continuous efforts to diversify the game and business of baseball.
Since the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps' inaugural season in 1994, the team has been committed to being an inclusive and welcoming community asset. The Whitecaps are about fun, community and fan experiences.
As part of this commitment, the Whitecaps joined a group of 72 Minor League Baseball teams during the 2019 season participating in the Copa de la Diversión initiative. For three games, the Whitecaps adopted the identity of Las Calaveras de West Michigan.
The games focused on celebrating the Hispanic culture and its influence on America's pastime, including adding new Hispanic food options, creating a culturally relevant persona and focusing on fun giveaways.
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Motivated to make their Copa de la Diversión participation count, the Whitecaps began meeting with community leaders and business partners to find out how they could make the biggest impact.
During an initial meeting with the Grand Rapids Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Whitecaps were introduced to several local leaders along with representatives visiting from Grand Rapids' sister city of Zapopan, Mexico. The meeting was aimed at finalizing details surrounding an upcoming trip to Zapopan by Grand Rapids representatives to strengthen relations between the cities.
"Understanding baseball crosses borders without discriminating based on demographic or economic class, we knew we could play a role in some way," said Dan Morrison, vice president of sales for the Whitecaps.
"We understood there was a need for equipment such as gloves, bats, helmets and baseballs for the City of Zapopan to start its baseball program," Morrison said. "Knowing we could not provide equipment to every kid who wanted to play, we decided instead to give the equipment to the administrator of the program and the local police department so it would stay at the fields."
By providing enough equipment to have five games run simultaneously on separate fields, all kids who wanted to play baseball could participate.
The Whitecaps' desire to play a part in helping build relations with their sister city came full circle when Benjamin Hernández, a diplomat from Zapopan, was in attendance at an August game to see Las Calaveras de West Michigan take the field at Fifth Third Ballpark. He brought with him custom sugar skulls that paid tribute to the Whitecaps' new "Calaveras" identity. The Grand Rapids delegation, led by Mayor Rosalyn Bliss, visited Zapopan in October and presented its mayor with the Whitecaps' equipment donation.
"We feel like we're part of a much bigger collective," said Jenny Garone, community relations manager for the Whitecaps. "Not only did we make an impact on children in Zapopan, but our commitment extends to our ballpark activities. We make announcements in Spanish at each game and play authentic music as part of our commitment to our fans and the local Hispanic community. MiLB's Copa de la Diversión initiative has helped in our mission of fun, community and experiences."
Steve VanWagoner is the Director of Marketing & Media Relations for the West Michigan Whitecaps.