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THE BARRIO BOYS
Alexander Wolff
June 27, 2011
IN 1949 EL PASO'S BOWIE BEARS, A TEAM OF POOR HISPANIC PLAYERS WHO WERE TOO UNWORLDLY TO BE INTIMIDATED BY THEIR MORE AFFLUENT ANGLO OPPONENTS, CAME FROM NOWHERE TO WIN TEXAS'S FIRST HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
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June 27, 2011

The Barrio Boys

IN 1949 EL PASO'S BOWIE BEARS, A TEAM OF POOR HISPANIC PLAYERS WHO WERE TOO UNWORLDLY TO BE INTIMIDATED BY THEIR MORE AFFLUENT ANGLO OPPONENTS, CAME FROM NOWHERE TO WIN TEXAS'S FIRST HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP

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On the play at the plate another Maroon, also representing the tying run, made his way to second base. An infield hit edged him to third. Whereupon the next Austin hitter slapped a sharp ground ball.

At least some of the 2,700 fans there that night must have wondered what the Bowie shortstop was thinking, dropping to one knee. "I was ready to block it, just in case," Rodriguez says. "I said, 'This damn ball's not going through me.'" He caught the ball cleanly, stood up and whipped it across the diamond. Cradled safely in Lara's borrowed glove, the ball made the urchins of El Paso lords of all Texas.

There was no celebration when it was over," Morales recalls. "We took it as part of how Nemo raised us—we just picked up our belongings and walked out of there."

The Bowie players don't recall shaking hands with their opponents. And though the Bears received a trophy—"I mean, it must be about three feet high," Herrera marveled in his collect call that night—there was no formal presentation or other official act recognizing that Bowie had won Texas's inaugural baseball championship. The Bears had scratched out nothing but unearned runs to win the final, and to a typical Texan of the time it must have seemed that an alien team had seized the title by alien means. The Austin American-Statesman reacted as if Pancho Villa had just led a raid over the border: Amigo, the Bowie Bears have come and gone. And they have taken with them the state baseball championship. They took it Wednesday night through a weird assortment of hits, errors, jinxes and other sundry items which ultimately meant Bowie 3, Austin 2.

After the Bears had packed up for the ride home, a few rocks hit their bus. "There were two cops there who didn't do anything," Rodriguez recalls. When a restaurant near Fort Stockton, 240 miles from home, wouldn't serve the Bowie party, Herrera ferried food to the bus.

Around noon the following day, as the team rumbled along Highway 80 over the El Paso County line, a sheriff's deputy on a motorcycle flashed his lights to pull the bus over. One player wondered if they'd hit somebody. When the officer stepped aboard, it was to inform the driver that Bowie students were affixing a state champs banner to the side of the bus and that he'd be providing a police escort to the terminal. "As the bus approached downtown there were people lining both sides of the street," Lara recalls. "A lot of Anglos were cheering for us too."

The minor league El Paso Texans threw a Bowie Night that weekend, and the Bears were feted with several banquets the following week. "We can't give them anything," one city official told the local paper, "but we can sure feed them."

Still, the Bears sensed that even in their hometown, they were given a second-class celebration. Instead of the mayor meeting them at the bus station, as had been announced, an alderman did the honors. "At the depot some guy came up to Nemo and gave him a box with a shirt in it," Morales remembers. "When [El Paso's] Austin High won the district in football, their coach got a brand new car."

None of the players stopped by the terminal's baggage room to claim luggage. "We all carried paper bags with our stuff off the bus," Morales says. "I walked a mile, hopped the streetcar, then walked the eight blocks home."

The night before the team had left for Austin, students in a Bowie home economics class stayed up late preparing hard-boiled eggs for the players to eat on the trip. The Bears had won, one of those coeds would say at a Bowie reunion years later, "porque jugaron con huevos." Because they played with eggs—that is, with balls.

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