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Protesters rally at Fenway Park

Ariz. game draws immigration law demonstrators

Demonstrators opposing Arizona’s immigration law marched at Fenway Park. Demonstrators opposing Arizona’s immigration law marched at Fenway Park. (Barry Chin/ Globe Staff)
By Maria Sacchetti
Globe Staff / June 16, 2010

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The Arizona Diamondbacks huddled in the cramped visitors clubhouse in Fenway Park yesterday afternoon, carrying more baggage than the usual bats and balls. On Lansdowne Street, the protesters were arriving.

The team has become mired in the vitriolic national debate over illegal immigration, a symbol of a state under fire for recently passing the most restrictive immigration law in the country. Protests have dogged them in Houston and Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami, and yesterday in Boston, where scores of demonstrators gathered behind the Green Monster before game time to rally against the law.

“It’s been happening everywhere we go,’’ said Miguel Montero, a 26-year-old catcher from Venezuela. “We don’t talk about it.’’

Yesterday’s demonstrators — about 200 people from labor unions, church groups, and immigrant advocates — crowded the sidewalk behind sausage stands to assail the law, which was passed in April and takes effect next month. The law makes it a state crime to be in the United States illegally and allows police to question those they suspect of being in the country without papers.

The protesters also spoke out against a proposed crackdown in Massachusetts, where lawmakers are debating budget amendments that would restrict illegal immigrants’ access to government services.

They said they fear that the Arizona law creates a climate for racial profiling, and they urged politicians to instead create a path to legal residency for the millions of immigrants in the United States illegally. They chanted and carried signs saying “We are all Arizona,’’ saying they were protesting the legislation, not the players.

“We’re not going to let a law like Arizona’s happen in Massachusetts,’’ said Yessenia Alfaro, director of organizing for the Chelsea Collaborative and a US citizen originally from El Salvador. “I believe in the American dream. This is my country and my children’s country. We came here for a better life.’’

The demonstration generated mixed reaction, from scowls to smiles of support. Most passersby ignored it, wrapped up in the game.

Richard Matckie, 42, of New Hampshire criticized the protest. “All the people who want to support [immigrants here illegally] should take their paychecks and support them,’’ he said.

But Andy Adams, 44, of Waltham said his church was considering canceling its conference in Arizona because of the controversy and praised the protest.

“I think it’s great,’’ he said with a smile, standing with his father, Ron. “It gives you another reason to dislike the opposing team.’’

Inside the park before the game, both teams said they were eager to focus on baseball. The Major League Baseball Players Association criticized the law in April, but players seemed uncomfortable or uncertain talking about it yesterday.

One D-back who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was unhappy about the law. “Who would like it?’’ he said.

In the visitors clubhouse, players seemed unfazed by the controversy brewing outside, eating rice and beans, watching World Cup soccer on big-screen television, playing cards, and reviewing their pay stubs. More than 28 percent of the Diamondbacks players are immigrants, especially from Latin America, and Spanish flows as easily as English in the clubhouse.

At least one player, infielder Augie Ojeda, the California-born son of Mexican immigrants, has criticized the law as unfair, saying police could detain him in Arizona simply because he is Latino. But yesterday, he said, he was reluctant to talk about it.

“We’re here to play baseball,’’ he said.

Pitcher Carlos Rosa, who is from the Dominican Republic, said in Spanish that players did not want to get involved in the debate. “Sports and politics are different things,’’ he said.

Inside their far more spacious clubhouse, the Red Sox players seemed unaware of the debate or the impending protest. The Sox team was the last to integrate in 1959, but now almost 26 percent of the team’s roster is foreign-born, including David Ortiz, the Dominican slugger who hit a home run last night.

Mike Lowell, standing at his locker, said he was not following it that closely, but said the immigration debate probably has arguments on all sides.

“I think it’s a tough situation,’’ he said, getting ready for the game. “I don’t think there is an easy solution to the problem.’’

Protesters are hoping to capitalize on America’s pastime to pressure team owners and baseball commissioner Bud Selig to oppose the Arizona law. Yesterday, Selig and Red Sox principal owner John Henry declined to comment through intermediaries.

The Diamondbacks have not taken a position on the Arizona law, but Ken Kendrick, the managing general partner, has said he personally opposes it, a spokesman said.

Protesters are also calling on Selig to move the 2011 All-Star game from Arizona, similar to the National Football League’s decision to relocate the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix after the state’s voters rejected a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Voters later approved the holiday.

Dave Czesniuk, director of operations at Sport in Society at Northeastern University, said baseball owners and leaders should take a stand since they have benefited heavily from immigration.

Dave Zirin, author of “What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States,’’ said sports and politics have long been intertwined: Billie Jean King fought for women’s rights, Muhammad Ali opposed the Vietnam War, and Jackie Robinson endured harassment to advance civil rights as the first black major leaguer of the modern era.

But others pointed to polls that show public support for the Arizona law as a way to increase security along the border and reduce costs for education and health care. Baseball, they say, should stay out of it.

“I don’t think that the opponents of the Arizona law are generating the kind of public support that is going to make any difference to Major League Baseball,’’ said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization based in Washington favoring stricter controls on immigration.

Maria Sacchetti can be reached at msacchetti@globe.com.

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