ASU Law helps Puerto Rico native through turmoil of Hurricane Maria to pursue baseball dream

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

Growing up in Puerto Rico, where sports are embedded in the culture, Chanel Zapata developed a passion for baseball early in life.

“It just has a lot to do with my identity and being from Puerto Rico. I don’t like to say baseball is who you are, it’s what you do. But in Puerto Rico, it can be a little twisted,” she said with a laugh.

The San Juan native, 23, left Puerto Rico to attend the University of Tampa, but her sights remained firmly set on a career in baseball. So when she heard about the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law master of sports law and business program at Arizona State University, she knew it would be the perfect fit.

From day one of orientation, it exceeded her expectations. She was impressed with the litany of guest speakers and networking events, and perhaps most notably, having a class taught by former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.

But during her first semester, tragedy struck back home in Puerto Rico in the form of Hurricane Maria.

She wasn’t able to reach her mother by phone for a month. During that time, her mom lost her job, and her brother was unable to attend school.

“Violence was very prevalent,” Zapata said. “There was a lot of looting in San Juan. It came to the point where my family had no power, no clean water.”

Her mother and brother were forced to relocate to Florida, and all the turmoil made it nearly impossible for Zapata to focus on her studies.

“There was so much uncertainty in my life, and I was here alone,” she said. “It was so tough, and school was not a priority in that moment.”

But Zapata was a priority for the school. And she said the people at ASU Law went out of their way to help her through the crisis.

“The faculty really supported me, which I thought was incredible,” she said. “They kept checking in on me and making sure that I was OK, and that meant so much to me and my family.”

And that kind of support is what she hopes to offer in a career as a liaison for Latin American baseball players.

Chanel Zapata

“My goal is to become an educational and cultural coordinator,” she said. “Helping the players learn English as a second language or Spanish as a second language. Helping them adapt to the culture here in the United States or wherever they’re settling into. And over 90 percent of the players in the minor leagues do not go to the 40- or 25-man roster, so I want to be able to help guide their careers and figure out what is their next step, what are they going to do after baseball is over.”

But first, a special graduation celebration with her mother is in order.

“I’m super excited because my mom has never been to Arizona,” Zapata said. “She’s flying in for the commencement, and I’m hoping to show her Sedona and other parts of the state and everything that I do here.”