82-yr-old World Series Champ Mantilla Takes 10-yr-old Little Leaguers to Puerto Rico
On Thursday, fourteen Milwaukee-based Little Leaguers (ages 9-10) traveled to Puerto Rico to play tournament ball and, more importantly, to engage in educational and cultural experiences (including visits to the rain forest, the ocean, caves, Old San Juan and more.) They will spend four days on the island, and in 2017, players and chaperones will travel from Puerto Rico to Milwaukee for a similar baseball and educational experiences.
This first-of-its-kind program was conceived by family and friends of Felix Mantilla, one of the MLB’s first Latino players who arrived in the US at age 19 (without speaking English). Mantilla’s 24-year career began with a Puerto Rican police league at age 12 and went on to include a 1957 Milwaukee Braves World Series championship (while roommates with Hank Aaron!) and a selection to the 1965 All-Star Game as a member of the Boston Red Sox.
Now 82, Mantilla resides in Milwaukee where he founded his Little League in 1972 with a vision of helping youth reach their greatest potential not only in athletics, but also in academia, family and community responsibility. It is supported by the Milwaukee Brewers Community Foundation and has served more than 10,000 urban children on the city’s dominantly Latino near south side. The league is operated by Journey House, a respected community development center serving the underprivileged neighborhood. Mantilla is believed to be today’s only person who has a Little League bearing an MLB player’s name.
Some of these children have not yet traveled just a few miles to Lake Michigan, yet alone flown over an ocean.
What a joy it will be for Mantilla to experience the children play ball in his hometown and learn from people and experiences in his native country. Who can imagine the lifelong impact this experience might have on these children?
Fundraising for this program started just a few months ago, with more than $60,000 already raised toward the $80,000 goal.
It is catching attention far and wide including a notice by New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez who recently heard about the program and sent a check.
Known as a skilled utility man, Mantilla played for Milwaukee Braves, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros.