Baseball traces its roots to upstate New York and a man with one of the whitest names in American history: Abner Doubleday, who allegedly invented the game in a cow pasture in 1839. The modern sport, however, is a fusion of cultural influences—Caribbean, Latino, Japanese, and more. Like America as a whole, it has been both adopted and altered by successive waves of engaged immigrants.
Those influences take the mound at "¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues," a bilingual exhibit that opened last summer at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
As always, cultural exchange is not a one-way street. It was Cuban student visitors to the U.S. in the 1860s who brought an early version of baseball to the Caribbean. A century later, after professional baseball's color barrier was broken, Latino stars such as Roberto Clemente (from Puerto Rico) paved the way for fellow Hall of Famers such as Pedro Martinez (of the Dominican Republic) and Mariano Rivera (of Panama), turning America's pastime into a more global game.
Language, too, has evolved via baseball's cross-national appeal. Spanish speakers have adopted many English baseball terms—strikeout, safe, etc.—but perhaps Americans should try some of the more vibrant Latino terms. Defensive players positioned in the outfield grass, for example, are known as jardineros ("gardeners"), which makes the utilitarian "outfielders" seem just plain dull.