Adjusting to Majors

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Jul 23 12:15:03 UTC 2003

>>From the New York Times, July 21, 2003
Adjusting to Majors Has a New Meaning

When Pedro Martnez speaks English, he has a noticeable accent and
sometimes still mixes up words. But when he speaks in his native Spanish,
Martinez is poetic, melodically inserting catchy metaphors and clever
similes in his stories. The ease of speaking in his first language is one
reason Martnez became upset when he read an article by The Associated
Press last month quoting Sammy Sosa verbatim in English after Sosa was
caught using a corked bat.

Martnez said he thought a remark like "You got to stood up and be there
for it" was used to mock Sosa, so he became an unofficial spokesman for
encouraging the news media to provide interpreters during charged moments,
when a foreign-born player might have difficulty expressing himself.
"Sammy, in a hurried moment, couldn't express what he wanted to express,"
Martnez said recently in Spanish. "Sammy, what he wanted to say, he said
it in the English he knew to satisfy the press with his answer."

Sosa, who temporarily boycotted the news media after the corked-bat
incident, declined to discuss the issue, saying he did not want to
remember that time. Many major league players can relate to Sosa's
discomfort when speaking in English with the American news media,
especially after games when throngs of reporters gather at their locker
while they struggle to speak in a language they have yet to master.

The foreign presence in baseball has continued to grow. On opening day
this year, 23.3 percent of the players in the majors were born outside the
United States, according to Major League Baseball. A majority of
foreign-born players come from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and
Mexico. Walk into any major league clubhouse and it is common to hear
merengue, salsa and other Spanish beats on the stereo. Members of the
Asian news media regularly cover some teams, including the Yankees, who
have Hideki Matsui of Japan, and the Cubs, who have Hee Seop Choi of South

Inside the Yankees' clubhouse is what some players call the hot corner,
where the lockers of Antonio Osuna, Alfonso Soriano, Mariano Rivera, Raul
Mondesi and other Latino players are located. Osuna said they gave the
area the name because of its Latin flavor. The Yankees have eight
foreign-born players on their 25-man roster, including seven from Latin
American countries; they also have three players from Puerto Rico, a
United States commonwealth. Cubs Manager Dusty Baker, who speaks Spanish
fluently, said some foreign-born players hide from the news media because
they fear they will look bad if they do not understand something in
English or mispronounce words.

"Talking to the media, it's hard on the Latin guys because I know the
hardest thing for me to do is a Spanish interview," Baker said. Choi had
an interpreter last year, his first in the majors. But he got rid of the
interpreter this season to force himself to learn more English. Like Choi,
many Asian players are provided with interpreters during their first year
in the majors, but Latino players are not. This is because all major
league teams now have instructors who teach Latin players the language and
the basics of American culture, beginning in the minor leagues, said Sal
Artiaga, who runs baseball's Latin American language and cultural
assimilation program.

Martnez, who is from Manoguayabo, Dominican Republic, knows how abrupt the
transition can be for a young player who comes to the United States for
the first time. "It's like if you lived in Mexico all of your life, then
all of a sudden when you're 18, 19 years old, they tell you, 'You're
coming to the United States,' " he said. "You don't know English, you
don't know about the food, you don't know about the culture. It's a
drastic change." Martnez learned English in high school and he also took
courses at the Los Angeles Dodgers' Campo Las Palmas, a baseball academy
in the Dominican Republic.

But when Sosa came from the Dominican Republic to play for the Texas
Rangers in 1989, formal English classes did not exist, the Cubs
spokeswoman Sharon Pannozzo said. "It was difficult," Sosa said in
Spanish. "I didn't understand English well, and it's difficult when you
don't study it and you learn it from your friends. It's not the same."
When a young player becomes successful and reporters seek him out before
and after games, knowing English becomes essential. Martnez said he was
comfortable speaking to the news media in English because of his
education, but he noted that the players' ease with English varies widely.

Although it helps players immensely if they can speak English, Baker said,
they should not be forced to learn the language. "They come here to play
ball," he said. "You need to cut them some slack.  It's not mandatory."
Cubs third baseman Ramon Martinez, who is not related to Pedro Martnez,
was born in Philadelphia but went to school in Puerto Rico. He speaks
English well, but he still prefers to speak Spanish. Still, he is adamant
about one thing: "The number of Latinos are growing, but we're here in
their country. We need to learn their language."

Matsui, who arrived in New York early this year, often asks his
interpreter, Roger Kahlon, the meaning of English words. Kahlon tries to
leave Matsui alone when he talks with coaches or other players, so he can
learn English. But when it comes to speaking with reporters, Kahlon said
he translates because the questions are specific. Because foreign-born
players are not often interviewed by American reporters who speak their
language fluently, there is often the risk that what they say will be

After The Associated Press transmitted its article about Sosa, Martinez
endorsed a memo from the players association that urged foreign-born
players to speak with reporters from the news agency only in their native
languages. But The A.P. soon apologized, and the players association
withdrew its suggestion. Terry Taylor, the sports editor of The Associated
Press, said that use of the Sosa quotes was a matter of poor editing. She
said that the quote from Sosa - "You got to stood up and be there for it"
- should have been paraphrased or omitted. (Sosa apparently intended to
say that a player needs to stand up and take responsibility for his

Taylor said that the presence of an interpreter would not have improved
the situation, but that more careful editing would have. Sosa was
"perfectly clear in what he was saying," Taylor said. "The first quotes
out of the box were clear as a bell," she said.

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