America’s Pastime has a Latin-American Flavor at Manhattan College

During the 2014 season, someone had to point out to Jim Duffy, head coach of Manhattan College’s baseball team, that he had three Hispanic assistant coaches.

At that time, Duffy was assisted by Rene Ruiz, Justin Echevarria and now former pitching coach Elvys Quezada. Duffy didn’t have a quota system to meet, but hired them because they were legitimately qualified for their positions.

“I don’t really think about it very much,” Duffy said. “It’s not a factor in our recruiting. I’m not trying to hit a number. I’m not trying to have so many Latin kids, or so many Caucasian kids, or so many Italian kids or Irish kids.”

“We recruit good, hard-working student-athletes that are a really good fit at Manhattan College, the institution and the culture of our baseball program,” he added.

In all of baseball, from little league; to high school; to college and then the major leagues, it is becoming increasingly difficult to look over Hispanics. They are at the front and center of the sport.

At Manhattan, that sentiment could not be any more true. Duffy’s entire coaching staff and four of his players: Jose Carrera, Ryan Gronlier, Mikey Miranda and Christian Santisteban are all Hispanic.

To some, four out of 32 players on the roster might seem like a few, but Manhattan has always had a history of having a lot of diversity on the team. This season, it just so happens that that number is not any higher.

Last year, Carrera; Miranda and Santisteban were joined by Yoandry Galan; Yony Fernandez and Elias Monsalve as fellow Hispanics. In 2013, they had another Hispanic teammate in Ramon Ortega, a two-time first team All-MAAC selection.

These Hispanic players have mostly come out of the Miami area, a place Rene Ruiz knows well, as he grew up there as a Cuban-American.

Ruiz’s knowledge of the Miami area has given him an upper-hand when recruiting in Florida. But he agrees with Duffy that although Florida has a huge Hispanic population, especially Cuban, that is not what he goes there looking for.

“I don’t care if the kid is American or African American down there,” Ruiz said. “There’s just very good baseball. There’s good baseball and I got to see it firsthand because I experienced it, I played there, the level of competition. The ability to play year round is the biggest advantage of going down there.”

In his five years at Manhattan, Ruiz has helped land numerous recruits from Miami to the team, including Carrera, Miranda and Santisteban. His recruiting in Florida has not been limited to Miami though. For the 2015 season, Ruiz recruited Paul and Adam Genners out of Jacksonville, Fla., and Gonlier out of Doral, Fla.

A common theme in Ruiz’s involvement in Florida has been the high number of recruits with Cuban descent. Carrera, Gonlier and Santisteban are three Cuban’s on the current team and Galan was another member on that list last year.

It seems the message is spreading around Florida that Cuban-Americans are having success at Manhattan College because Fabian Peña, a highly touted Cuban prospect, who came to Miami in 2011 has decided to come to Manhattan College in 2016.

Peña is a 5-foot-11, 205-pound catcher who headlines next year’s recruiting class, which also includes another Hispanic in Marc Galvan.

For Duffy, a major reason why Peña chose Manhattan was the endorsement of the school he received from fellow Cubans in Carrera, Gonlier and Santisteban.

“I always say we help facilitate the recruiting process, but they [the players] recruit themselves.” Duffy said. “If they weren’t having a good experience here, we wouldn’t be getting kids from South Florida.

Cuban-Americans have had a good experience at Manhattan College. Also, with the recent news of improved relations between the United States and Cuba and the possibility that the embargo can one day be lifted, one can only wonder what that could mean for college baseball and the major leagues.

Ruiz is aware of what it could possibly mean to travel to Cuba without restrictions and scout players, but admitted that it will be tough for mid-major schools like Manhattan to recruit those kids.

“I think one of the biggest challenges, regardless of (travel without restrictions) opening up, is the language barrier,” Ruiz said. “(Cubans) still have to come and maintain a certain GPA and they have to afford a $52,000 institution.”

“From a cost standpoint, I don’t see it being worth it for us,” he added. “It doesn’t mean I don’t think that there’s good players there and that they can’t benefit professional teams or certain college teams. I think in our situation, just speaking about Manhattan College, I don’t see a reason to have to do that.”

Despite the high amount of Hispanics on the team, there is one glaring omission: African Americans.

However, that is not a poor reflection on Manhattan College. The lack of African Americans playing baseball has affected many colleges and the major leagues as well.

African Americans made up only 2.6 percent of Division I college baseball athletes, according to a 2012 NCAA report on race and gender.

“I think one of the things that you come across with also and one of the biggest things is pace of play,” Justin Echevarria, Manhattan pitching coach, said. “(African Americans) are geared more towards football and basketball just because it’s a quicker game, more of an aggressive game, not as much standing around.”

Although the team does have a good amount of diversity, the coaching staff admitted that it can still be better and that it starts with getting some local recruits out of the Bronx.

Ruiz cited the professional mentality that exists in New York as a major barrier to the team not having any players from the Bronx. Many players in New York high schools let baseball overtake their schoolwork and when they get to major Division I programs they find it hard to balance both aspects.

In addition, Ruiz added that many New York players prefer to go to junior colleges where they can enter the major league draft after their first year. Whereas if they choose to attend a Division I school, they cannot enter until after their junior year.

Echevarria, a New York City native himself, knows the challenges that city kids face when choosing the right college. Factors such as playing time, cost of attending and the possibility of going pro all play a part.

“Like we always say when we recruit a young man: they got to want to come to Manhattan,” Echevarria said. “They got to want it as much as we want them, so to speak.”

Duffy wants local kids on the team. For him though, it is a matter of them fitting the right qualifications that he looks for when recruiting.

“I would love to have a couple of local guys on this team,” Duffy said. “And the admissions department would like for me to have that too. But it’s not as much up to me as it is (the local kids).”