Connecting Diaspora and Baseball Through Tim Lincecum

Tim Lincecum’s importance to San Francisco Giants fans cannot be overstated.
(via Dirk Hansen)

I did not grow up in or with baseball. I never played Little League; I didn’t toss the ball around with friends. Rather, I discovered the sport in high school, deciding to watch the 2007 postseason on a whim. The next season, I fell in love with my hometown (or regionally adjacent) San Francisco Giants and, more particularly, Tim Lincecum.

Tim Lincecum was an anomaly for me, a first generation Filipino-American. Growing up, I didn’t see any Filipinos in American media or on a platform as big as sports—Manny Pacquiao aside. My parents pointed out whenever I watched Mulan that Mulan’s singing voice was Filipina Lea Salonga, but it wasn’t as if I was actually seeing Salonga sing. This is what made Lincecum stand out for me.There was something about being able to see someone who looked like me pitching for my favorite team. Not only that, but seeing someone who looked like me and was successful. That meant a lot to me as someone who spent their entire life struggling with figuring out their identity.

Lincecum, who is half-Filipino, was the first ethnically Filipino person to win a major big league award when he won the Cy Young in 2008. Following that achievement, the Manila Times quoted Lincecum talking about his Filipino heritage and having a large Filipino following in San Francisco:

During the San Francisco press conference, Lincecum acknowledged the huge Filipino following he enjoys.

“As far as the diversity of the city goes, it’s up there,” said Lincecum, whose mother Rebecca Asis is the daughter of Filipino immigrants. “You know, I’m a Filipino. I have Filipino heritage in me.”

Lincecum said it’s not uncommon for him to run into somebody who’s Filipino in the community, adding: “It’s just great. I think the game is just getting followed more and more worldwide. To find that in your own city, to find that same kind of following it’s good.”

San Francisco has been a home for Filipino immigrants since many began immigrating to the States in the 1970s and 1980s. Nearby Daly City has a reputation for being one of the most Filipino places in California, if not the United States. According to the 2012 census, 58.4 percent of the population in Daly City was of Asian descent. Those of Filipino descent accounted for 33.3 percent of the city’s population.

The Giants themselves recognize the Filipino community in San Francisco, and the surrounding Bay Area, hosting Filipino Heritage Night at the ballpark twice a season due to its popularity. The event has been a staple for the Giants for the better part of the last decade, even without Lincecum.

Lincecum himself doesn’t speak much about being Filipino, aside from acknowledging his heritage. On his blog, Emil Guillermo described a candid conversation he had with Lincecum about his roots. “The Filipino side of my heritage wasn’t really pressed into me as a youngster,” Lincecum told Guillermo. Lincecum acknowledged that not being close with his mother has made it a little tougher.

Guillermo also wrote:

He certainly doesn’t deny his “Filipino-ness.” But like many half-Filipino, or multiracial Filipinos (21.8 percent of U.S. Filipinos), one’s comfort level is based on a continued connection to family. Certainly, that’s a private matter–to a point. It’s just that when you take the mound on such a public stage as Major League Baseball, you lose some of that privacy. Filipinos see a game where there are zero Filipinos on the field. And when someone like Lincecum comes along, naturally, he becomes, whether he likes it or not, a kind of global hero to Filipinos everywhere. Sports and identity politics go together.

While I may disagree with Guillermo about what is and isn’t a private matter (I don’t believe Lincecum carries any obligation to discuss his relationship to his mother or his Filipino heritage), the point still stands that someone who identifies as Filipino, just as Lincecum does, on a stage as prominent as major league baseball, is likely to become a hero to Filipinos everywhere.

Especially to the Filipino diaspora.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

My own relationship with being Filipina is complicated. I grew up bilingual, fluent in both English and Tagalog and not sure which I learned first, though my parents always tell me it was Tagalog. I have never really been in doubt that I am completely Filipina, especially with my parents themselves emigrating to the United States from Manila in the 1980s.

After entering kindergarten and elementary school, I rejected a lot of my Filipino culture, especially speaking the language. I was bullied and made fun of in class because I didn’t know how to be “American,” whatever that really meant. Much of it was because when I didn’t know how to say certain words or phrases in English, I’d default to Tagalog.

I remember coming home from first grade one day and telling my mother, “I don’t want to speak Tagalog anymore. I keep being made fun of.”

“Okay, anak [my child]. But we’re going to keep speaking to you in Tagalog so you don’t lose the language.”

I rejected the culture because I wanted to survive in rural California, where immigrants and their children never really got the respect they deserved because they weren’t thought of as “American.” There also wasn’t much of a Filipino population in my hometown, which left me lacking a community and a connection to both my heritage and who I was as a first-generation American.

Being part of the diaspora, especially when there is nothing of one’s heritage to latch onto, is a tricky process for some. It can leave you feeling adrift. I had access to Filipino-ness, with both of my parents teaching me bits and pieces of what it meant to be us, and extended family immersing me in the culture. Yet despite all of the access I did have, because my experience of my identity as a Filipino was mostly confined to my family life, and whenever I was at a relative’s home, I felt I needed to shunt all of it aside in social settings.

If I had already been bullied just for being of Filipino descent, what would they do if they found out I was also practicing the norms and rituals associated with being Filipino? How could I risk carrying that with me, out into the word?

It had been 10 years since I had last stepped foot in the Philippines. We were there to visit my lolo [grandfather] in the hospital. I had just turned 17, newly a baseball fan with one full season of fandom under my belt,but already extremely devoted to Tim Lincecum because I was just so in love with watching him pitch.

I started to discover what I had missed by rejecting my Filipino-ness when I was young. I finally started learning how to read and write in Tagalog, because while I had learned to speak it very young, I never learned to read or write in it until then.

Along the way, my mother encouraged me to sound out the words on various signs so that I could connect my knowledge of the language to what I was reading. In turn, I would point out anything I saw at the malls in Metro Manila that was remotely related to baseball, whispering things in Tagalog to myself about it.

It was October 2008—I remember this well because I had woken up at seven in the morning to watch the Phillies defeat the Rays in the World Series that year.

From my parents, I knew that baseball wasn’t exactly a big deal in the Philippines. Basketball and soccer were the most popular sports to follow and, to some extent, still are. But I noticed something I knew was different than the last time I was there: San Francisco Giants hats.

I remember locking eyes with someone wearing a Giants cap at the airport, both of us nodding with an understood agreement of, “Yeah, Lincecum, hell yeah.” I had never really connected to my being Filipino before that moment, and I haven’t been the same since.

It was an intersection of my American identity and my Filipino identity. Through baseball, I was able to connect more to the Filipino part of my identity and allow myself to explore what it means to be Filipino. After years of rejecting that it was a part of me, I was now able to embrace it. It seems fitting that it would be the national pastime that helped me feel more comfortable in my skin as a Filipino-American.

I returned to the States in November, just days before Lincecum was named the 2008 NL Cy Young winner. I was extremely jetlagged the day of the announcement, so I powered through the night and stayed up to hear the news. My elation watching him win knew no bounds.

In 2008, the Giants had Lincecum and Geno Espineli on the team, both of whom are Filipino. By all accounts, that was the first time there were multiple Filipino ballplayers on one team (please do let me know if there were other instances).

As a very impressionable teenager, who had been tormented for years by other children for being Filipino, I very nearly wanted to cry. I remember thinking, “They look like me. They speak the same language as me, probably. They eat the same food as me.” It was a breakthrough in figuring out who I was, once and for all. This is the power that representation has for people—Lincecum’s success and presence on the stage of major league baseball showed me that I had a place where I had thought I wasn’t welcome.

My friend Aya, who lives in the Philippines and follows both the majors and NPB, noted that though it is acknowledged that Lincecum is Filipino, there is not the same attention paid toward him as, say, Filipino-American NBA player Jordan Clarkson. Basketball is still the most popular sport, though Filipino baseball fans such as Aya hope that more people are drawn to it.

In 2007, a baseball league in the Philippines was established, called Baseball Philippines, but it appears that there has been no update about the league since 2012.

Today, there are several ballplayers of Filipino heritage playing in affiliated baseball in the United States. The d’Arnaud brothers are both Filipino, along with Addison Russell, whose mother is Filipina. Former major league pitcher Clay Rapada, whose father is Filipino, is a member of the Philippine National Baseball team.

While that team did not enter the 2006 or 2009 World Baseball Classic, and did not qualify for the 2013 and 2017 tournaments, there was a certain level of surrealism seeing a Philippine National Baseball team hat being sold at AT&T Park, which was the host of the 2013 championship rounds. The park that Lincecum called his home park for so many years selling a Philippine baseball hat? It was the moment when I realized how much baseball connected me to my roots.

Now, Lincecum is looking to make a comeback.

He hasn’t pitched professionally since the end of the 2016 season, but has been working out at the Driveline Baseball facility during this past offseason.

On Tuesday, Jon Heyman tweeted that Lincecum would be joining the Texas Rangers. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News wrote:

According to two major league sources, the club agreed to a contract with Tim “The Freak” Lincecum Tuesday. The deal, worth $1 million in base salary with performance incentives, according to a source, is pending a physical. The Rangers, along with most clubs, saw Lincecum during a workout 10 days ago in Seattle. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels did not respond to requests for comment.

Now at the age of 26, I’m reacting the same way I did when I first saw him pitch as a teenager. I’m not wholly the same person I was then, but in many ways, I still am. My Lincecum 2008 Cy Young poster still adorns the wall of my childhood bedroom, and my 26-year-old self would still abandon family engagements in order to watch him pitch as I once did before.

I’m not sure about a lot of things in life, but among those things I do know is that Tim Lincecum will be forever beloved by San Francisco Giants fans. But even more than that, despite falling out of the public eye after the 2016 season, he is still a dude who captured baseball fans in Northern California with his laid back attitude and his ability to make a misdemeanor charge for marijuana possession into an endearing aspect of his story (it is San Francisco, after all). Not only that, but he was one of us, a member of the Filipino diaspora who found his way to San Francisco somehow, just as many immigrants did over the years.

Lincecum was a beacon of hope in years where the Giants’ season record was less than sterling. Then, as a three time World Series champion with two no-hitters against the same team in back-to-back years, he was a sign of accomplishment and just how far the Giants were able to go..

Now, as Lincecum continues his career with Texas, there is still something to be said about the importance of a Filipino baseball player who was able to captivate an unofficial capital of Filipino diaspora and connect so many to a sport that never really featured them before.

Maraming salamat, Timmy. Para sa lahat.

Thank you, Timmy. For everything.

References and Resources

Jen is a freelance writer. Read all of their writing on their website, and follow them on Twitter @jenmacramos.
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6 years ago

This article is profound. The simple moment where you truly connected with an identity, the hat in the airport, is profound. Every word of the article hinges around that moment. You didn’t say anything more than you needed — it’s only a two-sentence paragraph — but it shows how a moment can shape our understanding of ourselves, how we reevaluate what we’ve experienced and who we call ourselves constantly. And sometimes something crystallizes such that someone new, built from the same parts as someone existing with only one tiny new part, is somehow created or realized.

6 years ago

Thanks for the brilliant essay.

6 years ago

What a great read this was. I am consumed by stories where baseball and culture collide in such a fervent way. There are not many articles like this, so I am happy to have come across this one.

6 years ago

This was a joy to read, thank you.

6 years ago

Excellent article. My children are half-Filipino and they too sometimes struggle with being “American” and understanding some of their Filipino family customs. We impress upon them the importance of understanding both their American and Filipino ancestry and a trip to the Philippines last year certainly helped them appreciate the beauty of the country and the hospitality of the people.

Additionally, you omitted Tyler Saladino of the White Sox and I’ll also point out that Jordan Clarkson of the Cleveland Cavaliers is half-Filipino.

6 years ago

We’re all rooting for Timmy to make a big comeback this season. The league was a better place when he was dominating on, and being just a cool dude off, the mound.
As a Mets fan who is married to a Pinay, I thank you for pointing out that Travis d’Arnaud’s mom is Filipino. I didn’t know that and now my wife has another reason to root for him with me.
And just a shout out for my and all Met fans’ favorite Filipino player, Benny Agbayani. Sure they always said he was from Hawaii, but we knew better.

6 years ago

Great article, thank you.

Robert Stephenson of the Reds is also half Filipino, from his mother’s side. He is from the same town I live in. Jason Bartlett and Kyle Lohse both have Filipina mothers. There was a 2015 Memorial Day matchup between Lincecum and Lohse, the Giants won, 5-3.

6 years ago

Made my day.

6 years ago

Great article! I’m half filipino and never would’ve guessed Lincecum was as well. Must be the lightest skinned filipino on the planet lol

6 years ago

Good read, thanks. I have no Filipino background that I’m aware of, but this immediately made me think of Carlos Bulosan’s _America is in the Heart_. Whatever your personal background, it’s a fantastic book about the immigrant experience. The rest of his work (fiction and non-) is also excellent.