Downtown Miami

Nicaraguans cheer with pride at Miami Marlins’ National Heritage Day

Nicaraguan Karla Matos pays homage to her country and passion for baseball at the Miami Marlins game on Sunday. The Marlins celebrated Nicaraguan Heritage Day. Baseball is the No. 1 sport in Nicaragua.
Nicaraguan Karla Matos pays homage to her country and passion for baseball at the Miami Marlins game on Sunday. The Marlins celebrated Nicaraguan Heritage Day. Baseball is the No. 1 sport in Nicaragua. For the Miami Herald

Nicaraguan Alonso Delgado remembered the days he’d watch rising-star pitcher Dennis “El Presidente” Martinez play in their native country.

More than 30 years later, Delgado and Martinez met at Marlins Park.

“My cousin was his catcher when he pitched for the team of Granada, where we both were born,” Delgado said.

Along with Martinez and Delgado, more than 500 Nicaraguans, waving their native white-and-blue flags, bonded Sunday at Marlins Park for the Miami baseball team’s Nicaraguan National Heritage Day. The Marlins also donated a portion of their Sunday proceeds to the nonprofit organization American Nicaraguan Foundation, which helps people living in impoverished areas of Nicaragua.

“Baseball is the maximum,” Delgado said. “We all grew up with baseball. We were born with it. I played baseball on the streets.”

Wearing a jersey of the Granada team, Delgado said that Sunday was the first time he actually met Martinez.

“Dennis is the maximum that we have had in baseball,” he said.

Martinez was the first Nicaraguan to pitch for Major League Baseball, playing for the Baltimore Orioles, Montreal Expos, Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners and Atlanta Braves. He was also the first Latin American-born pitcher to pitch a perfect game.

Baseball is spoon-fed to Nicaraguans, said Martinez, who threw out the first pitch for the Marlins last home game against the Atlanta Braves.

Martinez, who now lives in Miami, said that Nicaraguans have loved baseball since being introduced to it by Americans in the 19th century. “They showed baseball to the Nicaraguans and we learned what the sport is, and since then, baseball has been king,” he said. “It is our No. 1 sport. I think that tradition has been maintained.”

Nicaragua has a professional baseball league. Its best-known team is the Indios del Boer.

Nicaraguan Lillian Delgado, not related to Alonso, was also elated to meet Martinez, a childhood hero, and to introduce him to her kids.

“My father is a big fan of baseball. My dad would tell me about his experiences as a major leaguer in the United States,” she said. “My son plays baseball and I dream that he too could be just like Dennis Martinez. I am emotional to see the Nicaraguan community come here to support.”

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