Puerto Rican Pride on and Off the Field
By Lin-Manuel Miranda for the New York Times, 2008
My father, Luis, grew up in Vega Alta, on the northern coast of Puerto Rico . It has a present-day population of roughly 37,000, and has produced a number of major league baseball players like the Molina brothers, Yadier, Bengie and José, all catchers. As a child spending summers with my grandparents, my sometimes baby sitter was José Pito Hernández, who grew up to play for several major league clubs. But there is no greater source of pride to Vega Alta than our favorite Yankee switch-hitter, Bernie Williams.
I remember the lacquered photograph my grandfather Abuelo Wisin kept in his office. It was a faded and sepia-toned picture of a Little League team, 26 young men scowling in the sun, wearing the logo of the Vega Alta Cooperativa, the credit union where my grandfather worked for more than 20 years. He is squinting in stern-coach mode, his eyes and crooked nose uncannily like mine. Bernie Williams is in the second row, no older than 12. Abuelo would take down the picture and point out Bernie’s brother Hiram, on the end of the second row.
“Hiram had more natural talent,” he would say. “He could have played in the majors. But Bernie never stopped practicing, he really wanted it.” It was a lesson I would carry with me the rest of my life.
My grandfather died the week after “In the Heights” opened on Broadway, leaving a gaping hole in our family, a heartbreaking counterweight to a triumphant year. When I think of Yankee Stadium, I think of countless games at his side, in our seats near third base. Like me, he was a homebody and, with the exception of my show, Yankee Stadium was the only New York experience that ever interested him.
Abuelo with a pretzel, me with a baseball cap full of Dippin’ Dots, placing bets on the Great Subway Race (I rooted for the D and won every time), standing quietly through the national anthem. Then Bernie would be at bat, and I’d be up on my feet, screaming, “Vega Alta!” I screamed in the hopes of seeing him turn our way, a glimmer of recognition on his face for my grandfather, the Little League coach who was so proud of him.