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Lost in translation in Major League Baseball

Two decades before Jose Bautista was the major league home run leaderhe was a sharp student learning English at a private school in theDominican Republic, so when he became involved in professional baseballhe didn’t need a translator.

Two decades before Jose Bautista was the major league home run leader he was a sharp student learning English at a private school in the Dominican Republic, so when he became involved in professional baseball he didn’t need a translator.

Lucky for him.

As a teenager, Bautista spent six months at the Yankees’ Dominican academy and six more with the Diamondbacks, and doesn’t recall a single organized English class for the teenage prospects.

On Tuesday, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen sounded off to reporters about baseball’s enduring linguistic divide, questioning why the Sox class-A team had an interpreter for a Korean prospect but no paid translator for a large group of Latin American players.

When Bautista glanced at Guillen’s comments, he knew the Sox manager had a point.

Though Bautista is fully bilingual, he says a language barrier persists in pro baseball, and that it damages careers when communication falters between players and coaches.

“I’ve seen a lot of talented players that I thought could play the game and just because of miscommunication and some assumptions that were made, stuff didn’t get aired out,” Bautista said before a recent game in New York.

He didn’t want to name specific players, but he could have been talking about the guy two lockers to his left.

When the Jays traded for Yunel Escobar last month, some reports in the mainstream media labelled the former Braves shortstop indifferent on the field and aloof with the press, even as Spanish-speaking reporters who had dealt with him described him as easy-going and approachable.

Escobar maintains teammates and reporters simply misunderstood him, and his weak grasp of English may have contributed to the problem.

When Escobar left Cuba for Miami in 2004 he spoke no English, and says he received only a month of formal instruction as a Braves minor leaguer.

Four years into his big league career he’s still learning English, but says the transition to the pros was rough.

“It was really tough when I confronted that reality,” he said.

“But at the same time, I have always had Latin players on my team to help me.”

Without league-wide standards on how much English instruction prospects are required to receive, teams each set their own rules.

For Blue Jays prospects, English instruction starts with daily classes at their Dominican academy, then intensifies once players graduate to the club’s minor league complex in Dunedin, Fla., where they attend daily classes.

“It’s a major part (of a player’s growth),” said Charlie Wilson, the Jays’ director of minor league operations.

“A player cannot reach his full potential on the field until he has a full grasp of the English language.”

 
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