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Dodgers' Joe Kelly Honors Los Angeles' Mexican-American Community at White House Ceremony

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On the last Sunday of each month during the season, the Los Angeles Dodgers host a “Viva Los Dodgers” celebration prior to the game. In the two hours before game time families enjoy live music (including Mariachi bands), food, a car show, and sometimes can score autographs of their favorite players. The Dodgers organization has had a complicated relationship with the city’s Mexican-American community; Dodger Stadium is located at Chavez Ravine, which was once “among the largest, most important Mexican communities in the Southwest.” In the 1950s, though, the City of Los Angeles forced Chavez Ravine’s residents to relocate to public housing projects then under construction, paying them at most half of what their property was worth. While the neighborhoods weren’t decimated for the purpose of building Dodger Stadium, many of those whose families were displaced vowed to never support the team.

Things changed when Fernando Valenzuela, a 19-year-old from Etchohuaquila, Sonora, Mexico, arrived in Los Angeles in 1981. A future Cy Young award-winning pitcher, Valenzuela was playing in a small Mexican baseball league when he was accidentally discovered by a Dodgers scout. He was the youngest of 12 children, raised on a ranch in northern Mexico, and spoke no English when he arrived. His story was relatable to the Mexican-American community, and when the Dodgers won the World Series that season due in large part to Valenzuela’s pitching, the tide turned.

As of 2017 the Dodgers had the largest Latino fan base of any sports team. This year, the 40th anniversary of the “Fernandomania” craze, Chavez Ravine’s history has again been in the news.

It’s against this backdrop that the story of Joe Kelly, a Mariachi jacket, and the White House takes on a larger meaning.

On Sunday, June 27, the Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuéllar band appeared at Dodger Stadium to perform the National Anthem as part of the June “Viva Los Dodgers” celebration, and surprised the team by playing for them during warmups. Pitcher Joe Kelly asked trumpet player Grover Rodrigo if he was interested in a trade – his game jersey for Rodrigo’s custom Mariachi jacket.

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