Dodger Joe Kelly Honors Los Angeles's Mexican-American Community at White House Ceremony

CREDIT: Justin Turner Instagram

On the last Sunday of each month during the season, the Los Angeles Dodgers host a “Viva Los Dodgers” celebration prior to the game. In the two hours before game time families enjoy live music (including Mariachi bands), food, a car show, and sometimes can score autographs of their favorite players.

The Dodgers organization has had a complicated relationship with the city’s Mexican-American community; Dodger Stadium is located at Chavez Ravine, which was once “among the largest, most important Mexican communities in the Southwest.” In the 1950s, though, the City of Los Angeles forced Chavez Ravine’s residents to relocate to public housing projects then under construction, paying them at most half of what their property was worth. While the neighborhoods weren’t decimated for the purpose of building Dodger Stadium, many of those whose families were displaced vowed to never support the team.

Things changed when Fernando Valenzuela, a 19-year-old from Etchohuaquila, Sonora, Mexico, arrived in Los Angeles in 1980. A future Cy Young award-winning pitcher, Valenzuela was playing in a small Mexican baseball league when he was accidentally discovered by a Dodgers scout. He was the youngest of 12 children, raised on a ranch in northern Mexico, and spoke no English when he arrived. His story was relatable to the Mexican-American community, and when the Dodgers won the World Series in 1981 due in large part to Valenzuela’s pitching, the tide turned.

As of 2017 the Dodgers had the largest Latino fan base of any sports team. This year, the 40th anniversary of the “Fernandomania” craze, Chavez Ravine’s history has again been in the news.

It’s against this backdrop that the story of Joe Kelly, a Mariachi jacket, and the White House takes on a larger meaning.

On Sunday, June 27, the Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuéllar band appeared at Dodger Stadium to perform the National Anthem as part of the June “Viva Los Dodgers” celebration, and surprised the team by playing for them during warmups. Pitcher Joe Kelly asked trumpet player Grover Rodrigo if he was interested in a trade – his game jersey for Rodrigo’s custom Mariachi jacket. Rodrigo agreed, and the two made the exchange at the bullpen.

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A post shared by Mariachi Garibaldi (@mgarijc)

At the time, Rodrigo told NBC-LA:

“Really glad he kept his word. A little bit of me had a little bit of doubt, but I’m so glad it happened. I hope he treasures his jacket as much as I treasure his jersey.”

Fast forward to Friday morning. The Dodgers, who are in Washington, D.C. for a series against the Nationals, visited the White House to be honored for their World Series championship.

Joe Kelly had the most unique jacket there – Rodrigo’s. He shared a snap prior to the ceremony:

And 3rd baseman Justin Turner shared a picture of the two on his Instagram account.


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A post shared by Justin Turner (@redturn2)

Kelly’s action thrilled Dodgers fans, some of whom pointed out that it’s not a Mariachi jacket, but a Charro jacket, and is equivalent to a tuxedo jacket.

He also gained some new fans – like this woman, raised as a San Francisco Giants fan and a current Seattle Mariners season ticket holder. There were more than a few people sharing the sentiment that Kelly had a standing invitation to any fiesta or Carne Asada in their neighborhood.

Grover spoke to The Athletic later Friday, sharing more details about how they ended up playing for the team and making the deal with Kelly.

As a lifelong Dodgers fan, this brings a massive smile to my face – even though Kelly’s taken some heat for “cultural appropriation” by people who judge him just by his name, not realizing that his mother is Mexican-American. Kelly didn’t make a big deal about wearing the jacket to the White House, didn’t launch a PR campaign to point out that he was honoring the Mariachi culture and the history of Los Angeles. He quietly honored the culture and provided a 23-year-old trumpet player with the experience of a lifetime.