Sports are the one thing that can make a person feel like a child in a matter of seconds. It has allowed many to forget about whatever is going on with their lives. When people see their favorite athletes, all the noise in the background begins to fade. Your eyes are glued to the screen or—if you’re lucky enough—to the court or field from the stands above. It’s the underdog story or the dominance of a team that makes us so captivated. What makes professional sports so beautiful is the opportunity and growing diversity we see that continues to make us cheer and smile gleefully.
There has definitely been a long line of various athletes who have come from different backgrounds to make their mark within professional sports. People from Latin America and Spain are no strangers in producing athletes that have made their fellow countrymen proud. For example, according to the Society for American Baseball Research, about 27% of the player base is Hispanic. Additionally, according to NPR, about a quarter of the 800-plus players on Major League Baseball teams were born outside the United States. The country with the biggest number is the Dominican Republic, which had 83 players on opening day rosters last year.
Here are some of the best Hispanic athletes that made their contribution to professional sports.
Roberto Clemente was a Puerto Rican professional baseball right fielder who played 18 seasons in Major League Baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the first Latin American superstar in Major League Baseball. Throughout his career, he was a 15x All-Star and a 2x time champion. However, his accomplishments off the field are what truly makes Roberto Clemente a star and an inspiration. It was his ongoing mission to help gain recognition for fellow Hispanic ballplayers as well as aiding those across the United States and Central America, and offering free baseball clinics for children in his homeland. Unfortunately, Roberto Clemente passed while delivering supplies for victims of a Nicaraguan earthquake. Although his death was very tragic, his actions and selflessness continue to be celebrated to this day.
Mariana Pajón has had such a successful career as a cyclist. But if I were to ask you what age she started to build up that hefty resume you’ll probably never guess that it was at the age of five! That is correct, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. At the age of five, Mariana Pajón won her first national title and went on to win the world title at the age of nine. If you’re in disbelief, well so am I. Throughout her career, she has won a total of 14 world championships, 2 Olympic gold medals, and a BMX World Championship. She is regarded as the “Queen of BMX” and was the only Colombian to ever win 2 Olympic Gold Medals.
NBA player Manu Ginobili is the very definition of professionalism. He doesn’t necessarily produce the statistics that would make your eyes pop, but he does the little things that make him so valuable to a franchise that has built their players to become selfless team-first kind of guy. Argentine Manu Ginobili has spent 16 years with the San Antonio Spurs and is looking to continue to help his team contend in the playoffs. He is a 2x All-Star, 4x NBA champion, 2x All NBA, 2002-2003 All-Rookie and was the 2007-2008 6th Man of the Year.
Nancy Marie Lopez is a retired Mexican American professional golfer. In 1977 she became a member of the LPGA (The Ladies Professional Golf Association) tour and throughout her career has won 48 events and three major championships. At the start of her career, she started to see early signs of success. During her first full season, she won a total of 9 tournaments in which she won 5 consecutively. This leads her to become the LPGA Rookie of the Year and the LPGA Player of the Year. She was the only woman in history to have won both. Like so many athletes on this list, Nancy Lopez’s’ career was nothing short of spectacular.
If you’re starting to sense a trend, then you’ll most likely know where I’m going with this. In this case, he might arguably be the world’s most famous Argentine soccer player. Lionel Messi is an Argentine soccer superstar for FC Barcelona and is highly regarded as one the greatest soccer player to ever play. It’s hard to argue based on his accolades and wizardry on the field. He has won many championships and shown absolute dominance through his play. His career so far saw him win three consecutive FIFA Ballon d’Or, including an unprecedented fourth. His best career year was the 2011-2012 season where he recorded the most goals in a single season and established himself as Barcelona’s all-time top scorer.
Ana Gabriela Guevara Espinoza is a Mexican retired track runner. During her tenure, she specialized in the 400-meter run. She started her career in international competitions where she won two silver medals in the Central American and Caribbean Games in the 400 and 800 meters. In 1999 at the Pan American Games in Canada, Ana Guevara won her first gold medal in the 400-meter race. She then went on to qualify for the Sydney Olympics finishing in 5th place. Throughout her career moving forward she won 28 consecutive international races. After calling it a career she transitioned to becoming a Mexican Senator from 2012-2018.
Pedro Jaime Martínez is a retired Dominican-American starting pitcher in Major League Baseball. He spent his 17-year career with five different teams, most notably the Boston Red Sox. He is highly regarded as one of the best starting pitchers and was an absolute problem for opposing squads. His career saw him start off with the Montreal Expos where he started to gain traction on his path to success. However, it wasn’t until 1997-2003 where he started to reach his full potential. During this time he was a force to be reckoned with on the Boston Red Sox. He was absolutely dominant and won the coveted Cy Young Awards three times and was a eight-time 8x All-Star during his tenure. He then finished off his career in 2009, on a high note as he went on to finish with the final record of 219 wins to 100 losses, the fourth highest percentage in history. In 2015, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame and is now a baseball commentator and holds key roles in helping the Boston Red Sox organization.
Idalys Ortiz is a judoka from Cuba. She has participated in various Olympic competitions, competing in the 78 kg division, and has won a medal in each occasion in 2008, 20012, and 2016. Ortiz started judo when she was 10 and soon went to the national team at the age of 15. It wasn’t until she was 18 that she became the youngest Olympic heavyweight to win the bronze medal in 2008.
Mariano Rivera is thought to be one of the best closers to ever play the game. Hailing from Panama, he has spent his whole career with the “Bronx Bombers”, “The Evil Empire,” otherwise known as the New York Yankees. He was one of the only 12 players to ever play the game to don the number 42, which was retired in 1997 honoring Jackie Robinson. During his tenure, he has become a 13x All-Star, and 5x world champion. He’s often nicknamed as “Mo” or “Sandman,” and is MLB’s career leader in saves and games finished. After the 2013 season, Mariano Rivera called it quits and had his number retired within the New York Yankees organization.
Rebecca Lobo is of Cuban descent and is currently a reporter and color analyst for ESPN. She is a former women’s basketball player for the Women’s National Basketball Association who spent most of her career playing the center position. She started her career at the University at Connecticut where she helped lead a 35-win undefeated team to an NCAA championship in 1995. When the WNBA was formed in 1997 she was assigned to the New York Liberty. During her first season, she led the Liberty to the WNBA finals but unfortunately fell short to the Houston Comets. After 1999 Rebecca Lobo went through setbacks due to injury but was named an All-Star. She bounced around to Houston Comets and soon retired in 2003 as a Connecticut Sun.
Like the other athletes listed above, Rafael Nadal is nothing short of spectacular in his field of play. Rafael Nadal is a Spanish professional tennis player and is currently ranked number 5 in the world. Nadal is considered by many the greatest to ever step onto the court, as he has shown an all-court threat that justifies his brilliance. His accomplishments sure back up the claim as he has won 14 Grand Slam singles titles, the 2008 Olympic gold medal in singles, and recorded 27 ATP World Tour Masters 1000, and 15 ATP World Tour 500 tournaments. If that wasn’t enough, he was also a member of the Spain Davis Cup team that had won four times in 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2011.
Julio César Chávez
There’s a long line of great Mexican fighters within boxing. Whether it was Rubén Oliveras to today’s Canelo Alvarez, nobody can deny the accomplished history of Mexico’s very own. However, one name always creeps up when discussions revolve around who the best Mexican born boxer is: Julio César Chávez. Like the athletes mentioned above, the now-retired Julio César Chávez didn’t lack in the resume department. He has racked up quite a bit of accolade throughout his career. Chávez was a six-time world champion in three weight divisions and was considered the best pound for pound fighter in the world. His 25 years in professional boxing has netted records for the most title defense, victories, title fights, etc. He was nothing short of a mesmerizing fighter and continues to be the strongest suitor for the best Mexican professional boxer.
When people talk about softball phenomenon, enter Lisa Fernández. Lisa Fernández is a Puerto Rican-American former softball player. She has filled up the stat sheet and has had quite a successful history within the sport. She was a 4-time First Team All-American and a three-time winning Olympian. Her career began in UCLA Bruins as a pitcher and third baseman. During her time at UCLA, she won two national championships in 1990-1993. Fernández continues to hold the record for career shutouts, WHIP, and winning percentage. When Fernández participated in the Olympics she established her greatness by holding the record of 25 strikeouts in a game. Her unbelievable play is what soon led her to be named as the Greatest College Softball Player.