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English- and Spanish-speaking minor league baseball players' perspectives on community service and the psychosocial benefit of helping children.

Community service is a common activity for many athletes and teams. Often it involves raising money for a cause, or promoting healthy, safe, or prosocial behavior; other times, it simply brings athletes together with members of the community. Many of the latter types of events bring community members to the stadium or send athletes to schools, camps, malls, or hospitals. These events can offer public relations benefits to teams, but what do these activities mean to individual athletes who participate in them?

In the many studies of athletes' involvement in community service, cause promotion, and even sponsored events, athletes' own perspectives have only infrequently been addressed. Researchers have examined effects on fans, organizations, communities, and even society. (1) When special issues of the Journal of Sport Management and the Journal of Organization & Management recently focused on sport and social responsibility, researchers looked at these same stakeholders, but did not examine the effects on or perspectives of the athletes involved. (2)

Relatively few studies have explored athletes' perspectives on community service. (3) A potentially related study of a baseball team in the New York-Penn League (NYPL), for example, examined effects on the organization, not the players. (4) The current study attempts to fill a gap in the literature by examining athletes' perspectives on participating in community service.

During the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the authors interviewed eighty baseball players from ten of the fourteen affiliated teams playing in the NYPL (Class A--Short Season). All of the players interviewed indicated that they are required or strongly encouraged to perform community service. Correspondence with general managers of eleven of the fourteen NYPL teams confirmed that some parent organizations require a minimum number of hours or events per player, while others do not require a set amount but do reward participation, either through an appearance fee or with end-of-season awards. Even when community service is voluntary, general managers estimated that 75 to 100 percent of their players participate in community service, with the exception of one general manager, who estimated that half of his players participate. One general manager estimated that half of his team's community service involves children, but overall general managers estimated that "more than half" or "the majority" of community service involves local children; numerical estimates ranged from 6o to 95 percent. Clearly participation in community service is the norm among NYPL players, making community service potentially an important element of off-field socialization and a bridge between players and the community.

The NYPL was chosen for this study for several reasons. First, from a methodological perspective, players at this organizational level tend to be more accessible and open. (5) One executive explained that more experienced players tend to be much more guarded.

Second, from a social and developmental perspective, community service affords opportunities for direct interaction with fans. Players interviewed in the present study emphasized that, for most of them, the NYPL is their first time playing as professionals in front of fans. At this level, players often depend on fans for housing, rides, and other forms of social and material support. Players also indicated that good relations with fans can favorably impress the organization. Thus, serving these important stakeholders has both professional and social implications for NYPL players.

Third, from a managerial perspective, community service might affect players more at this level than at other levels. Some players believed that community service has more meaning and impact early in their professional careers. They said that major-league players, for example, may have more opportunities overall and more resources for helping others, but the NYPL offers more access to and interaction with fans, and more opportunities for players to give--and to see the results of their giving--directly.

Fourth, from a social psychological perspective, social identity theory posits that stronger social connections offer psychosocial benefits to individuals. (6) Studies have shown that community service can strengthen social connections, for example, by enhancing athletes' feelings of social cohesion. (7) Cohesion can, in turn, strengthen individual athletes' feelings of self-efficacy. (8) It can help develop broader social identifications. (9) It has even been suggested that cohesion can improve athletic performance. (10)

Issues of psychosocial adjustment and performance are especially salient among the young players in the NYPL who are making the challenging transition to professional baseball. (11) The ways in which players respond to these challenges can significantly affect their professional development. Spanish-speaking players from outside the United States, who make up a significant portion of the players on these teams, face additional challenges: a new language, a strange culture, unfamiliar foods, difficulty finding housing and transportation, feelings of isolation and alienation, and a belief that Spanish-speaking players have to work harder in order to advance. (12) This study looks at how performing community service can help players, including Spanish-speaking players, to manage challenges they face. Understanding the perspectives of and benefits to players can also help team officials plan and execute community service activities that benefit all stakeholders, including players.


Players were interviewed individually or in dyads or triads. All were at least eighteen-years-old. Interviewees included fifty native English speakers and thirty native Spanish speakers--the latter were all born and reared abroad: nineteen in the Dominican Republic; six in Venezuela; two in Mexico; and one each in Puerto Rico, Colombia, and El Salvador. Each was interviewed in Spanish by a native Spanish speaker, fluent in both Spanish and English. (13)

Players were approached on behalf of the researcher by a team representative. To improve trustworthiness, each interviewer explained that (a) the researchers were affiliated with an academic institution and not with the team or the local community, (b) participation was voluntary, and (c) no information would be shared that could identify a particular player or team. The inferred trustworthiness of responses is also based on observations that players (a) were accessible and generous with their time, (b) expressed interest in the research and requested contact information to see the results, and (c) demonstrated rapport with interviewers. This was particularly apparent among Spanish-speaking interviewees. One interviewer was a gregarious former athlete, trainer, and coach; another was Dominican, a fact particularly appreciated by Dominican players.


The researchers transcribed and coded players' comments about community service. After a series of meetings and exchanges of memos, researchers grouped players' statements into emergent categories, the most important of which included:

* Community service activities players had enjoyed

* Community service activities players would prefer

* People whom players would like to help

* When and where players would prefer to perform community service

Players do not have a lot of choice. Community service is planned for them. Not all players feel equally committed to participating. It takes place during time set aside for rest. It can be a burden, especially for Spanish-speaking players, for whom communication and transportation pose problems. Even what is expected from players at these events is sometimes unclear to them. This is less of a problem for players from the United States, who routinely perform community service in high school or college. (14) Many Spanish-speaking players, however, reported not having participated in community service activities before coming to the United States. Nevertheless, even players who were not always thrilled with community service as a whole indicated that they enjoyed certain aspects of participating.

Asked what community service activities they remembered favorably, players overwhelmingly mentioned activities involving children: calling on children with illnesses or disabilities, visiting schools and summer camps, or participating in baseball clinics. Consistent with this, when asked directly which people they would prefer to help or to work with in the future, English- and Spanish-speaking players answered children: poor children, sick children, disabled children, troubled children, or--most of the time--just children.

In contrast to English-speaking players however, Spanish-speaking players explicitly preferred activities that directly involved playing baseball. Most NYPL teams hold baseball camps or clinics for local children at the stadium. Spanish-speaking players indicated that they favored the focus--baseball--and the location--the stadium; English-speaking players were not as likely to express these preferences, particularly regarding location.

English- and Spanish-speaking players alike emphasized wanting to be able to help children in the future. English-speaking players tended to want to help children by teaching, mentoring, or offering emotional support; Spanish-speaking players emphasized providing needy children with financial support.

It is worth noting the special status afforded children in comments by players from diverse backgrounds and different organizations. This study is not based on a probability sample, so proportions of specific responses are not meaningful. It is instructive, however, to explore players' reasons why working with children is so rewarding. These reasons, including differences between English- and Spanish-speaking players, are explored below.


The researchers went through the reasons players gave for their preferences, as organized in the above categories, and descriptively coded each unit within them. (15) This inductive process required several passes through the data. When new codes emerged that fit better, existing codes were adjusted. This continued until all of the reason statements, in particular statements regarding why players prefer to work with children, had been coded. An outside researcher listened to the audio recordings of the English-language interviews, coded the statements independently, and came up with essentially identical codes.

The next step involved examining the statements for pattern codes, by analyzing which individual units went together in players' statements. The authors identified a set of themes, organized them in an interim conceptual memo, and shared this with the manager of one of the teams. Ultimately the themes were organized into three categories: recreation, relationships, and reciprocity.

Recreation-themed statements identified past or desired activities in which players had fun with children, and explained why interacting with children was especially fun; they also included statements connecting the nature, timing, and location with players and children having fun together. Relationship-themed statements included those in which players referenced friendship formation or injected concepts of family; they included statements in which the people involved, or the nature, timing, or location of events could facilitate the players' forming relationships with the participants. Reciprocity-themed statements included those in which players discussed reasons for wanting or feeling obligated to give back to individuals or groups within the community; they included statements about the deservedness of certain audiences, or the effectiveness of different types of activities in addressing the needs of deserving individuals.

To check the validity of these interpretations, the themes were shared through a series of memos with the outside researcher, who confirmed the relevance to the data of these pattern codes. The themes were also shared in five additional interviews with NYPL players from different teams in a process of member checicing. (16) This confirmed the applicability of these categories in capturing young players' perceptions of how they benefit from community service. One player's comments were particularly illustrative, because he spontaneously expressed the interrelatedness of these three themes to players themselves--"You can build relationships with these people. For the most part, that's what takes you back to feeling like a kid ... [and] can bring us together, through sports, and through that we can branch out and give back to the community." The three categories are presented below; representative quotes from NYPL players interviewed for this study are provided to illustrate and clarify the categories. Although English- and Spanish-speaking players' comments fell into these same categories, subtle distinctions emerged, and reasons for the differences are discussed.

1. Recreation: "We're still kids, regardless of our age, still playing the same game they're playing."

Players commented frequently that they are big kids playing a game for a living. They repeatedly said that they like children and enjoy playing with them, and that children like and look up to them. Players said that working with children reminds them of their own experiences and feelings as children, and how they looked up to professional baseball players. Thus, players said they identify with children and understand their perspectives--"I kind of get where they come from." This manifested itself in players' expressions of empathy, caring about children's feelings and well-being, and feeling they know what children need--"When you were little you enjoyed things like that, so you try to think about when you were little and what you would like."

Similar feelings toward adults--with the exception of senior citizens--were not expressed. As the exception that reinforces the rule, players gave a lone example of having fun and identifying with adults. These players had played golf with adult fans in a charity tournament benefitting children. Granted they were playing a game together, but what made these adults different? Players all gave the same answer. These fans were "basically adults who were kids."

Players said that being able to identify with children created opportunities to use play to do good. In turn, players' identification with children, through play, offered inherent rewards by reminding players that baseball is meant to be about play. As one player said, "Kids? Kids just have a great perspective. I kinda wish I still had that perspective and make everything easier and funner. You try to go back to that a lot when you're playing, you always want to have fun. That's the main thing. If you do have fun, you'll do what you need to do, and you'll have a good time."

Spanish-speaking players, too, said working with children can be fun--"Those kids make me laugh." It connects players to the time and place when they were children, when playing baseball was still a game--"One remembers when one was a kid and it is a very enjoyable experience."' Spanish-speaking players made it clear, as did English-speaking players, that working with children provides at least temporary release from the competitiveness of their profession. It forces players to shift their focus from work to play, from their achievements to the children's, whose accomplishments and enjoyment gratify players--"You know that one feels very good seeing the kids enjoying themselves."

Spanish-speaking players, though, have additional reasons for wanting to teach baseball to children. First, it gives players struggling with a new and unfamiliar culture a chance to help others by sharing something that they know they do well--"The few things that I know, I want the kids to learn." This reinforces players' feelings of accomplishment and mastery.

Second, playing with children helps reduce the stress of not knowing English. Players felt more comfortable and less self-conscious around children. Children, they said, are less judgmental and more open to nonverbal communication. Moreover, playing baseball together makes verbal communication less important. Several players said that they and the children teach each other--"I feel comfortable teaching baseball to kids. I learn from them too, because they teach me English."

2. Relationships: "I just like to get to know them; I want them to talk."

English-speaking players relished interactions with children--"sometimes it's fun to go out and just interact with people." One mentioned reason was because relationships often develop--"they get ... excited, and then some kids ... stay by certain players." Players often expressed this desire to form relationships, even temporarily--"we'd go there and just be their friend for the day." This included visiting seniors--"I just enjoy getting to know people and [making] friends." But players found it easiest to form relationships with children--"it felt good to talk to these kids."

Players contrasted interactive community service with passive cause pro-motion--"develop a little bit of a relationship. I think that's a little more special than just throwing on a jersey [to auction for charity]." Many players echoed this--"When we're just playing on the field and, like wearing the jersey, we're not getting to know the people" and "I think wearing pink jerseys was nice, and I'm all for it, but me, personally, I'd like to reach out, on a more personal level, get in touch with kids or whatever group we're targeting." In part, this was because players tended to see relationship-building as beneficial to children--"I think developing a relationship ... makes a big difference, plays a big part." It allows players to have more impact on children--"I think they take it more to heart."

These relationships at times even became ongoing--"It's almost like our team adopted them." The choice of the word "adopted" was not mere coincidence. References to family were prevalent in players' comments. Players watched interactions between children and parents and recalled their own families--"when [parents] come up and say, 'thank you for playing with our kids,' because that's how we were with our parents ... [it] kinda brings back memories."

Interacting with children away from the stadium also suggested family--"Maybe take them to lunch, go to the mall, or something kind of like a big brother thing." Even though players acknowledged that community service is more convenient and less taxing at the stadium, many English-speaking players expressed a preference for activities away from the field because it allows them to build relationships with children--"It's not personable on the field." Being away from the stadium was associated with players' frequently expressed desire to listen to and focus on the children--"It's better away because [at the stadium] the attention's on us; rather that we go out to you and we give you our attention."

Community service away from the field has an additional effect: It can strengthen relationships among teammates, consistent with studies cited above suggesting that community service leads to increased team cohesion. Players offered a number of reasons. First, it allows players to learn about each other--"I think we learn more about each other by talking to other people." Second, it provides another context for building relationships--"It's a way to connect off the field." Third, it breaks down cliques--"On the field, pitchers hang out with pitchers," but during community service, it's "a couple of pitchers, a couple of position players." Echoing studies that posit a link between cohesion and performance, players said that community service together, off the field, can affect their playing--"get to know a guy, then you feel more comfortable with him on the field." Going into the community can even help players with the organization--"They really do a great job getting you into the system and trying to help you be the best athlete and the best person you can be, so you can make it up, climb the ladder ... to succeed all the way to the top."

By contrast, Spanish-speaking players preferred activities at the stadium. Being dropped into a small US town can be unsettling. In addition to unfamiliar language, food, and culture, players and community members often seemed strange to each other--"They are nice people, but strange, weird, as if they were from a different planet." The stadium became an equalizer, their territory where players knew what to do and what to expect--"Once you cross the line on the field, everything is different."

Players also talked about being lonely. It is not unheard of for community service to ease a Spanish-speaking player's feelings of loneliness. (17) Helping others can break down barriers, build identification, and enable relationships to form. Community service allows players to present a different face to members of the community, and allows community members to understand the duality of these players' lives--"On the field you are one person and off the field you are another. ... During a game, I wouldn't even talk to my mother ... but off the field I am another person. ... I speak with everyone'

Given language and cultural barriers, how can community service help these players build relationships? The answer is children. Players said that because children are more tolerant and less intimidating, they are easier to befriend. Players find children more emotionally expressive--"children are more loving." Thus, even though Spanish-speaking players stressed the importance to them of being able to give money to children, they still saw community service as an opportunity for building relationships. This included being role models--"I feel good because I am like an example to them." It included motivating children to succeed--"I want to transmit to that person the feeling that he is capable to do the same as I do." It was not unusual for a player to be emphatic about wanting both to raise money for children and to guide children personally--"I want to serve the community so that they can follow the right path."

Like English-speaking players, community service with children reminded Spanish-speaking players of their families--"Sometimes you have younger siblings, nephews, and when you see a child, you remember them more." Although this could make players feel more homesick, players said that it makes them feel less so--"When I am around them, I feel as if my family is closer to me. I do not feel so alone."

Spanish-speaking players spoke of the difficulty of being in the United States for six months, unable to see their families--unlike many English-speaking players whose parents and grandparents could come watch them play. They felt helpless and sometimes guilty over leaving relatives behind. One worried about a mother's surgery. Another regretted being stuck in an American hospital the day his grandmother died. A third mentioned a sick grandfather--"I cannot help [him] now, because I'm here." Community service helped him feel reconnected. Community service can help players reestablish some stability in their lives by connecting to those around them and reconnecting, if only symbolically, to families left behind.

3. Reciprocity: "The kids will always be there to bring you up and keep your spirits up."

In explaining the attraction of community service, some English-speaking players mentioned the economic interdependence between teams and local communities; some mentioned in general terms the community's support for the players--"You're kinda paying your debt to them." In particular, players mentioned children's support--" [it] makes you want ... to do well for them."

Players said that they enjoy community service when effects on children are immediate and observable--"'cause we got to see the benefits of what we were doing, right away." English-speaking players, though, also liked the idea of being able to influence children's long-term emotional well-being, knowledge, and actions. Players said they get satisfaction providing emotional support, information, and guidance, to encourage children and motivate them to succeed--"to show kids the difference, to guide them in the right area."

Players often contrasted children and adults. For example, they felt many adults focus on players' economic potential, seeking out prospects for autographs to "flip on eBay." Children want autographs from all players, not just prospects--"They don't care what you're gonna [be]; they're not planning on investing in cards." Children like players and look up to them, more than adults--"For an older group of people, rather than kids, it would be harder for us to be kinda like their hero." Players' feelings of gratitude related to children's unconditional support--"They don't care how you do ... four strikeouts or four home runs." Those feelings did not as readily extend to adults--"[I've] had a couple of kids come up to me, like, 'It's alright, you'll be alright, go out and get 'em tomorrow: and then you got the mid-age guys, 'You suck."

Although English-speaking players expressed gratitude, they were not surprised by young fans' support. Spanish-speaking players were--"The fans are always supportive and clapping, no matter whether we are winning or losing." Their experiences generated different expectations--"If you lose a game in my country, the fans throw rocks at you." Players contrasted NYPL fans--"respectful"--with fans back home--"There are fans ... who go just to swear at you."

For many English- and Spanish-speaking players, helping children was an opportunity to repay old debts. Players recounted stories of older players being nice to them when they were children, and connected that with helping children now--"It's full circle ... so it's not only the least I can do, I enjoy doing it." For other players, such as the Venezuelan player who explained how community service reunites him--symbolically--with his grandfather, helping children now is a way of honoring those who helped them become who they are today--"When I was younger, I had people, role models, talking to me, guiding me. It just makes me feel like I'm giving back to them."

Some players went further. Players frequently mentioned feeling lucky or blessed, and community service for them was part of a spiritual cycle of paying back the source of their blessings--"God's given me this talent to get where I've gotten, and this is my duty to give back, you know, to these kids." Other players echoed this: Helping children expresses gratitude for being blessed with the talents and opportunities they have been given.

Why would this mean specifically helping children? A sense of justice appears to be at the root. Children are simply more deserving. (18) Children are blameless, not responsible for their poverty, illnesses, or disabilities--"Anybody can be in that situation." Furthermore, children seem to need help more than adults. Some children, players noted, do not even have responsible adults in their lives to help them.

For players who want to make a real difference to another person, helping children can be more effective than helping adults. First, children seem to be more receptive to players' helping them, because children identify more with players. "Kids want to learn from you"--because kids see players as closer in age, "cooler," and not preachy. Second, children will have more opportunities in the future to pay forward what players give them now. Players wanted to inspire children's motivation and ability to give of themselves, to carry players' messages forward to others--"ten years down the line ... it's a gift that keeps giving." Indeed, one of the most important effects players see themselves having on children is perpetuating the cycle of reciprocity--"If you can motivate anyone's motives, their drive to go in a positive direction, that's always great." Helping children simply lasts longer and goes further.


In discussing community service, English- and Spanish-speaking players expressed their preference for helping children. Players had several reasons for their preferences. Helping children offers psychosocial benefits, pleasure, and gratification. It provides opportunities for building relationships. It can even further players' professional development. The core theme in players' comments, however, was that community service allows players the chance to be treated more like people.

The motivation underlying this core theme, however, seemed to differ between the groups. For English-speaking players, community service appears to be a chance to escape from their professional identities; for Spanish-speaking players, community service in some ways strengthens those identities. For English-speaking players, community service appears to offer them a chance to act like kids again; for Spanish-speaking players, community service seems to give them a chance to be regarded less like children.

Reluctant Heroes: "They try to idolize us."

As big kids playing a children's game, English-speaking players felt they have unique access to and understanding of children. Players said, moreover, that helping children was "eye-opening" and put players' own troubles in perspective. "It humbles you" was repeated by a number of players. Players consistently associated this humility with a sense of their good fortune in being able to play professional baseball--"It kinda kept me in check, let me know how good I really have it"--consistent with their tendency, noted above, to regard community service as a way of expressing their gratitude for being blessed with exceptional skills.

At the same time, children's reactions made players feel important. Players described children's reactions--"how special they feel because you came and saw them"--and in turn, how that made the players feel special--"these are kids that don't like school ... it felt good to have a kid pay attention to you when he wouldn't listen to his teacher."

How is it possible that helping children made players feel both less important and more important? Players' comments suggest that helping children made their performance as players on the field less important--"It's just a game ... we always get irritated striking out and stuff, and it really just puts you back in place"--but made them feel more important because of who they are and what they can do off the field--"It's a positive reflection on your personality and who you are as a person."

Many players feel lonely--"It was fun to go out there and just hang out with people and just talk to them, especially being so far from home." Getting to know people through community service eased those feelings--"It makes you feel kind of at home ... It settles you down. You don't feel like an outcast." Community service even led to ongoing relationships--"Me and another guy met an old woman [on a team visit to senior housing] and we enjoyed it, talked to her, so we'd come back once a week, talk to her, walk her around. ... I got an e-mail from her the other day, and that was three years ago, and I still keep up with her. She sends me Christmas stuff, I send her Christmas stuff, stuff like that. ... I guess I was away from home and that was kind of like a grandparent thing." Players often used the word, "family," to describe idealized interactions with community members. Their descriptions of why they enjoy and how they benefit from community service suggests that players want to be able to step out of their role of baseball player and connect with others, becoming once again a son, a grandson, a brother, or a friend.

English-speaking players expressed this theme of community service as a chance for others to see the person inside the uniform--"I wouldn't want the typecast of, 'Oh, he's an athlete.' ... You take the jerseys off, everyone's a person." Some players used community service to talk about topics beyond baseball--"A lot of people ask you the same questions [about baseball]. ... I like talking to people about anything, not just baseball." Players expressed an even broader desire to go beyond stereotypes to form relationships--"[ When I meet sick children, I] try to talk like nothing is wrong, like, 'What do you like to do? ... What's your favorite movie? Favorite video game." I try to have a similar conversation that I'd have with someone who's not in a hospital bed." Emphasizing the person and not the role helps players to feel better about themselves and relieves the stress of on-field failures and frustrations--"It makes you feel better about yourself, that you're able to help other people out." One player said, "It just makes you a better person." Perhaps what he really meant was that it just makes you a person.

Indeed, English-speaking players seemed ambivalent about being cast as heroes. They welcomed the support they received and enjoyed feeling special, yet many seemed tentative around expressions of adulation and uncertain whether they were truly special. "We're all people, too, but ... it's kind of like we're put up on a pedestal. At the end of the day, we all put our shoes on one foot at a time and go about our business the same way." Community service highlighted this ambivalence--"We know we're at the bottom of the barrel of pro ball. The perspective is we think we're at the bottom of the barrel, but these kids think we're the best players ever."

The resolution of this ambivalence came from playing with kids. Players felt that although children idolize them, children also were more likely to see them as people. It was easier to relate to children person-to-person, and players felt more like individuals around children. Interacting with children usually involves play, even when it occurs away from the stadium, another reason players connected with children and reconnected with their own family and childhoods.

This can help players to feel more like themselves and less like a set of on-field accomplishments. Relationship building through community service underscores this desire to shed the mantle of professional hero, from time to time, for the humbler role of person. Reciprocity, too, is part of this cycle that takes players back to their own childhoods and restores their personhood. Ultimately, helping those who deserve, want, and benefit from players' help, directly and into the future, allows players to become true heroes.

Many of the players said their childhood idols were heroes not just for their on-field performance, but for how they made children feel off the field. Players' stories suggested that community service is an effort to recapture that feeling, to be the ones who become heroes by taking the time to make children feel good. Doing well as players is supplanted by doing good as individuals. Children may begin by seeing only the uniform, but players believe they are the most likely group to let players reveal the person under the uniform and give players the best opportunity to do real good--"Kids [are] probably the best part of this game, seeing all the little kids when you're playing. After the game they're all dying for your autograph. We barely make any money, we're not on ESPN every day, but these kids look at us like we're on the cover of ESPN: The Magazine. They love this game. ... They love to see us just play. They try to idolize us. That's the most rewarding part, and it feels even better once you're able to give back to them."

Reclaiming Status: "It can liberate you."

Spanish-speaking players' comments did not contain implications of feeling like reluctant heroes. Rather, their remarks suggested that community service can raise them from a demeaning and potentially debilitating second-class standing, and allow them to reclaim a healthier, more coequal status.

Spanish-speaking interviewees confirmed that they face the challenges noted earlier, of culture and language, of others' perceptions and expectations. These challenges were summarized in players' beliefs that they need to work harder than English-speaking players to prove themselves as equals. This is hardly surprising. Moving to a new culture is typically associated with status loss. (19) This effect can be even more pronounced for members of "visible minorities" who are linguistically, culturally, or physically distinctive. (20) Moreover, native speakers tend to regard nonnative speakers who are not fluent as childishly stupid or incompetent, while members of the majority culture tend to act condescendingly toward those who, like the Spanish-speaking players, lack facility not only in the majority language but also in the dominant culture. (21)

While researchers have advocated intergroup contact to reduce this kind of discriminatory condescension, Pettigrew suggested that for contact to succeed, it should take place in officially sanctioned settings, where (a) resources are shared (b) common goals are pursued, and (c) contact takes place on more or less equal terms. (22) In essence, Pettigrew was delineating what Spanish-speaking players described as their preferred conditions for community service. The formal setting of a baseball-themed, structured activity held at the stadium allows players (a) to share their strongest skills with members of the community with whom they have a common interest, (b) to work together to achieve a communal goal, and (c) to shed many of the outward characteristics of their differentness, such as language and culture, which become less salient especially when working with children. These kinds of activities allow Spanish-speaking players to prove competence and mastery, to circumvent language barriers, and to demonstrate their concern and benevolence to members of the community. The chance to be seen as individuals, and not merely members of a homogeneous out-group, in a setting focused on values and giving can promote equal status. (23)

Community service has additional importance in restoring status. Some teams provided host families, who gave players material and social support--a common arrangement in the lower minor leagues. (24) Many Spanish-speaking players, however, had to find housing by themselves, hampered by language barriers and intolerant landlords who asked for "American players," and some slept clandestinely in the clubhouse until they found housing. Players had trouble finding food they liked; problems contacting their families; and difficulties shopping, paying bills, or managing finances. It is clear why these players felt indebted when people helped them.

Indebtedness, however, can create feelings of subordination and marginalization; repaying those debts through community service can counter those feelings, by involving processes and outcomes that are psychologically empowering, facilitating individuals' (a) feelings of mastery and self-efficacy, (b) active engagement in their community, and (c) understanding of and ability to influence their organizational environment--all of which can improve performance. (25) Indeed, empowerment is the exact opposite of the social isolation, powerlessness, and helplessness many Spanish-speaking players reported feeling. (26) Community service has been cited as a behavioral means to achieving psychological empowerment. (27) Zimmerman specifically referred to mentoring children as a process that empowers the mentors. (28) Community service offers players a "participatory-developmental process" that increases psychological feelings of control, influence, and self-efficacy. (29) Community service, as described by Spanish-speaking players, incorporates characteristics that Maton identified with empowerment: a system of beliefs, a set of core activities, a relational environment, role structure, leadership opportunities, and setting maintenance. (30) Players' descriptions of community relations, from their perspectives, included processes of (a) relationship building leading to emotional connectedness, (b) active roles in rewarding niches that matched their skills, and (c) establishing cross-sector linkages that target community issues--all of which are related to feelings of empowerment. (31) This explains Spanish-speaking players' motivation to perform community service. Community service flips the relationship between donor and recipient. It presents players with the chance to strengthen relationships on more equal terms with people important to them while boosting their self-efficacy and helping them to cope with a challenging environment.

Giving is empowering in another way. Compared with the English-speaking players, Spanish-speaking players were overwhelmingly more likely to stress the importance of being able to give children money. Many of these players grew up in poverty; many have families back home still living in poverty. They spoke candidly of their personal experiences with hardship that enabled them to identify with those in need--"You need to help and support them. ... You see the kids and feel bad." Players seem to have internalized a connection between empathy and action--"One feels a certain sadness when one sees these kids, and it feels bad. ... One needs to help, support and be with them"--and for them, action means material support of those in financial distress.

They connect being able to give money with professional success. Players know of major leaguers' charitable acts. (32) Interviewees mentioned players, such as Miguel Tejada, Pedro Martinez, and Roberto Clemente, known for their on-field success and off-field generosity. Players frequently said that one reason they want to reach the major leagues is to have the money to be able to help others--"That is the thing that inspires me to wake up and go to the field and to want to reach the major leagues one day"--and even if players were exaggerating, it nevertheless shows the connection they feel between philanthropy and professional success. Performing community service triggers this association and can create feelings of success.

Thus, while helping children appears to be a chance for English-speaking players to recapture feelings of being children, for Spanish-speaking players it appears to be a chance to be treated less like children. Working with children offers them an escape from being in a position of dependence and subordinate status; it is a chance to demonstrate independence, control, and accomplishment; to find confidence, balance, and stability. It is also a chance to develop relationships and build a support system, which is essential to successful acclimation. (33) As a result, community service can help to promote the social, emotional, and mental readiness necessary for Spanish-speaking players to succeed.

For young, Spanish-speaking minor leaguers, mental preparation and social stability, more than athletic ability, can distinguish players who will succeed on the field and move up through the organization from those who will fail. (34) Success comes from the mental readiness provided by a sense of belonging, social adjustment, and having a support system. (35) To paraphrase Camilo Pascual--until we feel comfortable, we cannot play our best. (36) One young but already successful Spanish-speaking NYPL player spoke proudly of his inner calm and balance. He believed that his success, that season and in the future, was and will be a function of his mental and emotional maturity, more than just his physical gifts.

Other players made similar observations. Most Spanish-speaking players do not have opportunities, before becoming professionals, to cultivate the perspicacity players felt is necessary for their success. Community service can make up for that, helping to strengthen players and to provide the psychosocial maturity they need to succeed.

Spanish-speaking players' explanations suggested that teaching baseball to children enables them to regain the confidence they felt back home. It allows them to be themselves again, the people they were in their home countries, or as one player suggested, to share the "charisma" that others saw in them there, but that here, in the United States, only children seem to see.

When community service allowed players to find a surrogate family among local children, the effect was restorative--"I like to spend time with them since I am so far from my family, and the children are able to motivate me." Like some of the English-speaking players, some Spanish-speaking players indicated that community service gives them a chance to give thanks to the source of their talents. Some Spanish-speaking players went further, comparing feelings that come from performing community service to the sense of transcendence that religion offers, reinforcing the idea that community service can be psychologically empowering, or in the words of one player--"It can liberate you."


NYPL players' comments during the interviews offered some insight into their perspectives regarding off-field activities. Their comments, along with theoretical perspectives above, suggest ways of managing community service that benefit players and ultimately other stakeholders, including fans and teams. These suggestions take into account players' needs for recreation, relationship building, and immediate evidence of reciprocity. They are offered here for managerial consideration, with the full realization that not all teams will have the time or the resources to apply all of them.

Recreation: On Beyond Baseball

For English-speaking players, community service works best in situations where they can just be people again, interacting directly with fans--preferably children. Moving community service away from the stadium, whenever feasible and appropriate, can be a first step, especially if the activity involved is fun and something that players might do with younger siblings. In fact, based on players' comments that they like to relate to kids in ways that do not involve baseball, teams could encourage players to share other talents and interests. This not only would give players a greater sense of mastery and control, it could build self-esteem by reinforcing their feelings that they "get where kids are coming from."

For some players this could involve books--a number of players described reading to children in schools and libraries--although some players admitted that they feel uncomfortable reading aloud. Players mentioned other, diverse interests they have that appeal to children, from video games to music to religion to food. Identifying players' talents and interests and then finding opportunities for sharing them with community members would mean more work for team personnel. Furthermore, results of the interviews indicated that not all players would be interested. Theories of empowerment and players' own comments, however, suggest that this level of player engagement would appeal to some players and would be beneficial even if only a few players per team get involved in this way. Because this type of initiative redefines players' roles within the organization and within the community, relationships among the players, the team, and the community would benefit. This could offer even greater benefit for Spanish-speaking players, especially if players' skills are those that can be communicated without demanding perfect English and if these activities can take place at the stadium, where players feel comfortable--or if those skills can become a bridge to help players begin to feel more comfortable moving beyond the relative security of the stadium. One player, for example, skillfully prepared traditional Dominican cuisine for other players and community members.

Recreation: Recruitment and Involvement

Most teams currently allow players a choice from a list of activities the team has planned. They could go further by recruiting players to be involved in planning activities, perhaps incorporating the players' interests. The effects could be powerful. This would be challenging for teams, given both the lead time necessary for planning community service activities and the limitations of players' time and interest. Nevertheless, it would again only take a few players per team for this enhanced level of involvement to have a potentially meaningful impact on the team as a whole.

Relationships: Long Term

A number of players described the satisfaction they felt when relationships with fans extended beyond a single event. If teams could find ways to help children to stay in touch with players whom they met through community service activities--not through traditional kids' clubs, but on a more individual, personal level--then the feeling of "family" that many players described could be nurtured. The potential for strengthening community relations and generating positive public relations means that the direct beneficiaries would include not only the players, but also the organization and team.

Relationships: Cohesion

In planning and carrying out community service, mixing together pitchers and position players and English- and Spanish-speaking players could contribute to team cohesion and strengthen the clubhouse and, as research cited above has suggested, help the team on the field. Combining some of the more enthusiastic players with some of those who are less engaged could benefit both groups of players. Interviewees admitted that their teammates display varying levels of motivation to participate in community service. They suggested that building real opportunities for recreation, relationships, and reciprocity into community service could enhance the motivation of more players to participate meaningfully.

Reciprocity: Direct Feedback

Players repeatedly expressed their desire to observe directly the effects of their involvement in community service. Theories cited above reinforce the benefits this offers. Feedback could include not only how individual children benefitted from the players' good acts but also ways in which the community responded.

Some English-speaking players wanted to affect children's motivations to do well (e.g., in school) and to do good (e.g., in the community). If teams were therefore able to track not only players' participation in community service, but also the ways in which participants were affected--perhaps by getting feedback from teachers and other youth leaders--it would reinforce the benefit players receive by giving to others. Moreover, the support players need derives from engaging and even impressing local people, so community reactions, drawn from local media or elicited from community leaders, are important. Similarly, when community service includes promoting a cause or organization, then causes with strong local connections should take precedence over those with primarily national appeal.

Reciprocity: Financial Benefit

For Spanish-speaking players, it might be more helpful to provide feedback on ways in which the children they met through community service benefitted not only socially but by receiving actual material assistance. Ideally, it would contribute to players' psychological empowerment to allow Spanish-speaking players (a) to engage in activities in which they can have fun with children while helping to raise money or material goods for deserving children and (b) to see the financial impact of their acts.

For Spanish-speaking players, community service can be even more demanding than for English-speaking players. (37) Even players who enjoyed community service admitted this--"Even if working with kids is a pleasure, it is tiring." This underscores the importance of teams' offering a sufficient number and variety of community service opportunities and encouraging players to participate. The key is for management to recognize players' motivations and accommodate their needs. (38) One player noted--"The minor leagues are a process for you to evolve primarily as a person and secondly as a baseball player." Community service, properly planned, facilitates that evolution by playing to the strengths of different groups of players, and this benefits the teams and organizations to which these players belong.


This study is a first step. It is hoped that it will encourage others to listen to players' perceptions of their social roles and responsibilities. Additional observations and interviews would help to gain deeper understanding of how and to what extent community service benefits players' personal and professional adjustment, at this and at higher organizational levels.

What meaning will community service have for players as they move up? That remains to be studied, although players said that community service could have more meaning and impact early in their professional careers. Opportunities for recreation, relationships, and reciprocity appear greater in the lower levels; so, too, perhaps are the rewards.

Players' comments suggest they tend to be regarded as commodities, as means to an end. Organizations see them as a set of on-field accomplishments. Community organizers see them as a net influence on target audiences. In other words, players are mostly judged by what they accomplish, not by who they are. Ethically, both organizations and organizers would do well by the players to do more to construct community service activities and events that emphasize players' humanity and focus less on their agency. The players stand to benefit, and ultimately their teams, organizations, and communities do, too.

Alan Klein, in his study of Dominican baseball, perceived a connection between professional failure and social dislocation. (39) His suggestions for helping Spanish-speaking rookies succeed in the United States included hiring Spanish-speaking staff, and teaching English-speaking staff about Spanish-speaking cultures and societies. (40) One more suggestion could be added to this list: engaging players as much as possible in meaningful community service. Players say they are ready and waiting for the opportunity. One player summed up a feeling shared by Spanish- and English-speaking players alike--"I hope I will be blessed with the opportunity to help."


The authors wish to express their profound appreciation for the indispensable contribution of Professor Mary Lou Kish, whose critical analyses and grammatical precision guided this work throughout. The authors thank Wenmouth Williams and Howard Kalman for their support of this research; and Mead Loop, Terry Pluto, Jack Powers, and Rinat Ran, along with three anonymous reviewers, for their sage and timely advice. The authors are deeply grateful to the players, coaches, staff, and fans of the New York-Penn League teams--most especially to the patient and gracious people in the ballpark that became home each summer--whose generous sharing of their time, feelings, and insights created this study. This research was supported in part by a series of James B. Pendleton Faculty Research Grants from the Ithaca College School of Communication.

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(3.) Ryan Beers, "Effect of a Community Service Project on Team Cohesion in a High School Baseball Team" (master's thesis, Minnesota State University--Mankato, 2003); William H. Ressler et al., "When 'Playing for Pink' Became Playing for Each Other: How an NCAA Team Organized a Fundraiser and Found Group Cohesion." (conference paper, NCAA CHAMPS/Life Skills Conference, Tampa, FL, February 10,2010).

(4.) Dan Covell, "The Lowell Spinners and the Yankee Elimination Project: A Case Study Consideration of Linking Community Relations and Sponsorship," Sport Marketing Quarterly 17 (2008): 122-26.

(5.) David Lamb, Stolen Season: A Journey through America and Baseball's Minor Leagues (New York: Random House, 1991), 66-67; S. L. Price, Heart of the Game: Life, Death, and Mercy in Minor League America (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 237-38.

(6.) Henri Tajfel, Human Groups and Social Categories (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Henri Tajfel and John C. Turner, "Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behavior," in Psychology of Intergroup Relations, 2nd Ed., ed. William G. Austin and Stephen Worchel (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1986), 33-47.

(7.) Beer, "Community Service"; Ressler et al., "Playing for Pink."

(8.) Francisco M. Leo, Pedro A. Sanchez, David Sanchez, and Tomas Garcia, "Interactive Effects of Team Cohesion on Perceived Efficacy in Semi-Professional Sport," Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 9 (2010): 320-25.

(9.) Audrey J. Murrell and Samuel L. Gaertner, "Cohesion and Sport Team Effectiveness: The Benefit of a Common Group Identity," Journal of Sport and Social Issues 9 (1992): 1-14; Ressler et al., "Playing for Pink."

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(11.) Dirk Hayhurst, The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran (New York: Citadel Press, 2010); Matt McCarthy, Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit (New York: Viking, 2009).

(12.) Vincent Cinisomo, "Los Yanquis: Latino Players Are at the Heart of America's Team," Hispanic, October 2000, 46; Pedro Gomez, "Latin Players Could Use More Support," Sporting News, June 3, 2002, 30; Alan M. Klein, Sugarball: The American Game, The Dominican Dream (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1991), 76, 81; David Maraniss, Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 13, 45, 80, 239; McCarthy, Odd Man Out, 2-3, 71, 74, 167-8, 175; Price, Heart of the Game, no; Samuel 0. Regalado, "Hey Chico! The Latin Identity in Major League Baseball," NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 11, no. 1 (Fall 2002): 18-19, 23; Samuel 0. Regalado, Viva Baseball: Latin Major Leaguers and Their Special Hunger, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Illinois, 2008), 92) 94, no, 136, 202; Rob Ruck, The Tropic of Baseball: Baseball in the Dominican Republic (Westport, CT: Meclder, 1991), 75; Tim Wendel, The New Face of Baseball: The One-Hundred-Year Rise of Latinos in America's Favorite Sport (New York: HarperCollins, 2003)024, 148,185.

(13.) All answers given in Spanish have been translated by the author for use in this article.

(14.) Marty Benson, "The Takeaway on Giving Back," The NCAA News, February 13, 2006, A1.

(15.) Matthew B. Miles and A. Michael Huberman, Qualitative Data Analysis: A Sourcebook of New Methods (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1984), 49-78.

(16.) John W. Creswell, Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2009), 191.

(17.) Maraniss, Clemente, 86.

(18.) Historically other players have reached this conclusion; see, e.g., James S. Hirsch, Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend (New York: Scribner, 2010)08,378-85.

(19.) Zeynep Aycan and John W. Berry, "Impact of Employment-Related Experiences on Immigrants' Well-being and Adaptation to Canada," Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science 28 (1996): 240-51.

(20.) John W Berry, "Immigration, Acculturation, and Adaptation," Applied Psychology: An International Review 46 (1997): 22; Annie Montreuil and Richard Y. Bourhis, "Majority Acculturation Orientations Toward 'Valued' and 'Devalued' Immigrants," Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 32 (2001): 714.

(21.) Rene M. Dailey, Howard Giles, and Laura L. Jansma, "Language Attitudes in an Anglo-Hispanic Context: The Role of the Linguistic Landscape," Language & Communication 25 (2005): 32-35; Howard Giles and A. C. Billings, "Assessing Language Attitudes: Speaker Evaluation Studies," in The Handbook of Applied Linguistics, ed. A. Davies and C. Elder (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2004 187-209; Andrew Molinslcy, "Language Fluency and the Evaluation of Cultural Faux Pas: Russians Interviewing for Jobs in the United States," Social Psychology Quarterly 68 (2005): 103-20; Larissa Remmenick, "Work Relations Between Immigrants and Old-Timers in an Israeli Organization: Social Interactions and Inter-Group Attitudes," International Journal of Comparative Sociology 45 (2004): 54-56; Donald L. Rubin and Kim A. Smith, "Effects of Accent, Ethnicity, and Lecture Topic on Undergraduates' Perceptions of Nonnative English-Speaking Teaching Assistants," International Journal of Intercultural Relations 14 (2002): 337-53.

(22.) Miles Hewstone and Rupert Brown, "Contact Is Not Enough: An Intergroup Perspective on the 'Contact Hypothesis:" in Contact and Conflict in Intergroup Encounters, ed. Miles Hewstone and Rupert Brown (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1986); Thomas F. Pettigrew, "Generalized Intergroup Contact Effects on Prejudice," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 23 (1997): 173-85.

(23.) Henry A. Danso, Alexandra Sedlovskaya, and Sumarga H. Suanda, "Perceptions of Immigrants: Modifying the Attitudes of Individuals Higher in Social Dominance Orientation," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 33 (2007): 1120-21.

(24.) Mike Shannon, Everything Happens in Chillicothe (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2004), 345.

(25.) Marc A. Zimmerman, "Psychological Empowerment: Issues and Illustrations," American Journal of Community Psychology 23 (1995): 581-99; Marc A. Zimmerman et al., "Further Explorations in Empowerment Theory: An Empirical Analysis of Psychological Empowerment," American Journal of Community Psychology 20 (1992): 708; Mary S. Logan and Daniel C. Ganster, "The Effects of Empowerment on Attitudes and Performance: The Role of Social Support and Empowerment Beliefs,"Journal of Management Studies 44 (2007): 1523-50.

(26.) Zimmerman, "Psychological Empowerment," 589.

(27.) Zimmerman, "Psychological Empowerment," 593-94; Zimmerman et al. "Further Explorations," 709-10,720-21.

(28.) Zimmerman, "Psychological Empowerment," 584.

(29.) Kenneth I. Maton, "Empowering Community Settings: Agents of Individual Development, Community Betterment, and Positive Social Change," American Journal of Community Psychology 41 (2008): 5.

(30.) Maton, "Empowering Community Settings," 8-14.

(31.) Paul W. Speer and Joseph Hughey, "Community Organizing: An Ecological Route to Empowerment and Power," American Journal of Community Psychology 23 (1995): 736-39; Gretchen M. Spreitzer, "Social Structural Characteristics of Psychological Empowerment," Academy of Management Journal 39 (1996): 498.

(32.) Luis Arias, "Baseball Gives Back: Pedro Martinez and Jorge Posada Among the Generous," The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, June 28, 2004, 12; Thomas G. Dolan, "Baseball Cares: Hispanic Ballplayers Help Their Communities," The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, July 1, 2002, 8.

(33.) Berry, "Immigration," 25

(34.) Milton H. Jamail, Venezuelan Bust, Baseball Boom: Andres Reiner and Scouting on the New Frontier (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2008); Price, Heart of the Game, 110; Nick Wilson, "El Largo Camino Hasta las Ligas Mayores," La Voz, June 27, 2001, 22.

(35.) Klein, Sugarball, 87-91; Regalado, Viva Baseball, 94; Jose Luis Villegas and Marcus Bret6n, Home Is Everything: The Latino Baseball Story (El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press, 2002), 23; Wendel, New Face of Baseball, 123.

(36.) Regalado, Viva Baseball, 92.

(37.) Brett Mandel, Minor Players, Major Dreams (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1997), 197.

(38.) Villegas and Breton, Home Is Everything, 23.

(39.) Klein, Sugarball, 87.

(40.) Klein, Sugarball, 93.
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Date:Sep 22, 2011
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