By Alfredo Alvarez
Miami– To this day, February 18, 2018, more than 2,500 Latino players have played in Major League Baseball teams for more than 141 seasons. But who was the first? Who was the first Latino to ever play in the Major Leagues? His name was Esteban Bellan. He was born in Havana, Cuba on October 1, 1849. With an Irish mother and a Cuban father, Esteban was 14 years old with his brother Domingo when they were sent by their parents to study at the Jesuit Catholic School St John in New York today known as Fordham University.
There, he became very interested in baseball and was recruited to play for the team they had called » Rose Hill Baseball Club » where he played catcher. During the College season of 1868 he joined the Morrisania Unions team of the then Amateur League and then in 1869 he went to play professional with the Unions of Lasinburgh, where he remained until in 1871 that the National Association of Professional Baseball was created (today National League) and the team changed its name to Troy Haymakers becoming its third base. They would call him Steve instead of Esteban and that is how he is found registered in the encyclopedia of the Elderly. In that season he batted for 250 average with 29 games played, 23 RBIs, 32 hits and 4 stolen bases.
The team would disintegrate in the 1872 season in which he played in 23 games with 261 average, 17 RBIs and 30 hits. Esteban then went to play for the New York Mutuals in the season of 1873 his last where he average 219 with 3 RBIs and 7 hits in only 8 games played.
The following year he returned to Cuba where he would be the founder of the first official baseball team created in all of Latin America «Havana Base Ball Club. The same one that would play on December 27, 1874, the first official baseball game on the island. The game was held on the «Palmar de Junco» field in the city of Matanzas in the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood with a victory of 51 to 9 by the Habaneros. In that match Esteban was the most outstanding hitter playing catching and hitting 3 homers. In this team Bellan was manager-player while being in receiving ball behind the plate and coaching at the same time. He is even registered as a referee in a match.
4 years later, on December 29, 1878, the first professional game in the history of Cuban and Latin baseball took place at that time, where the team of Los Leones de La Habana led by Bellan against Los Alacranes de Almendares, a match Los Leones won 21 to 20. Leading the Leones of Havana, Esteban won 3 titles in the Cuban league (78-79, 79-80, and 82-83).
Esteban Bellan in his career as a player was known more for his defense than for his bat. In many articles of different newspapers of the time refer to Esteban as a defense artist with such illustrious movements that led him to have the nickname of «El Sílfide Cubano» in allusion to his majestic way of fielding. Others followed in his footsteps. They would be followed by Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida, both Cubans who in 1911 would play for the Cincinnati Reds. The rest of Bellan’s life is very little known, in fact it has remained a mystery. It is only known that on August 8, 1932, he died in his native Havana, Cuba. The time will pass and the game will become global more and more for your good and ours as fans but nobody will ever be able to erase Esteban Bellan from the beautiful history of baseball.
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