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Fronteras: How Mexican American fastpitch softball fostered community and opportunity in San Antonio and beyond

In the midst of the Great Depression during the 1930s, softball fields began popping up all across the United States as a way to promote community and entertainment.

The sport became a nationwide phenomena after a tournament was held at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

Many who played the game were Mexican workers who emigrated to the Midwest and other areas in the U.S. following the Mexican Revolution.

As the game evolved, many of these communities formed leagues and hosted tournaments that featured Mexican American fastpitch teams from across the U.S.

The 2021 book Mexican American Fastpitch: Identity at Play in Vernacular Sport explores the generations-long tradition that continues today.

Author Ben Chappell traveled to fastpitch tournaments across the country and interviewed players and fans about the impact of the sport.

Chappell, a professor of American Studies at the University of Kansas, said fastpitch gave often underestimated and stereotyped Mexican American communities a chance to play the game.

“Community-based fastpitch was one of the ways that people made their own opportunities,” he said. “There were people in this tradition who their attitude was basically, ‘Okay, if my high school doesn’t want me, I’m going to play for my family or play for my community.’”

The San Antonio Glowworm Athletic Club is a local group that has played fastpitch for nearly six decades.

Ruben Rios Jr. is a member of the club, which was founded by his grandfather.

He said the team’s annual tournament continues to keep the game alive in the community.

“It’s a reunion. (People) become family — maybe not by blood but by sport,” he said. “As we get older, you can’t necessarily play on the field, but we can definitely participate and continue that relationship in that community.”

The Glowworm host their 59th annual Men’s Fastpitch Softball Tournament June 22 and 23 at the Alva Jo Fischer Softball Complex at San Antonio’s Lady Bird Johnson Park.

It will feature over a dozen teams with countries like Mexico, Japan, and the Czech Republic represented.

Watch a live-stream of the tournament here.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1