The Miami sunshine has a way of hiding the dark spots of the city. At first glance, a newcomer can get lost in the tropical flora, the humidity and the nightlife, but after getting to know the people who call South Florida home, a much more vivid portrait is painted.
Anthony Nalepa is an example of how differently native Miamians view their city.
Nalepa, a junior right-handed pitcher for the University of Miami baseball team, knows firsthand what it means to live in the 305. Raised in a lower-middle class family in North Miami, he was reminded every day of the inequalities that defined him and his community.
“Throughout middle school and high school, I used the same glove and the same bat, even though most of my teammates would get new gear once or twice a year,” Nalepa said.
It was not only material things that weighed on his mind. When his friends went on to attend the local high school, the 6’2″ hurler was able to go to the nearby private school because of his talents as a pitcher. And although the choice itself was not bothersome, it was apparent that the class barrier in place would be.
The starkest reminder of who he was (and also was not) came to Nalepa after driving by a gated community that paralleled his high school. Inside he could see what turned out to be the brand new park called “Miami Shores,” which happened to contain pristine baseball fields which were of course, reserved for residents only. It was not the exclusivity of the park which drew his attention, but the lingering memory it recalled of what he and his childhood friends once called their own.
Cagni Park was the place where he and his friends would spend countless summer days playing baseball and generally hang out. The field was nothing special, simply a dirt infield with an outfield laced with patches of dead grass, but, regardless of the upkeep, it was theirs. Shortly after Nalepa started high school it was torn down, leaving him only the memories of what he and his friends once shared.
With all of these feelings and images rushing through his head, Nalepa was determined to show his peers that he was more than what they assumed him to be.
“There were so many cliques of rich kids where I went; I wanted to prove to everybody that I could be just as good, even better than what they were. It drove me to make myself into the player I am today.”
Time has proven to be a chance for Nalepa to quell his once-fiery disposition toward those of wealth. Cagni Park has since been rebuilt, with multiple diamonds and infield grass. He has proven to be successful, being part of a nationally-recognized baseball program and sees no reason as to why he could not go further. Nevertheless, there are still things that Nalepa wants:
“I want the segregation of the upper and lower classes in Miami, especially where I grew up, to be less apparent,” he said. “It’s tough for a kid coming out of there to compete with the kids who seemingly have everything.”
So next time you are wandering around South Beach, remember that, for many, the façade of palm trees and sand ends along with MacArthur Causeway.