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Tony Clark is interested in Carlos Beltran’s comments about interpreters for players

Apr 28, 2014, 10:33 AM EST

Tony Clark AP

Last week we heard Carlos Beltran talk about the difficulty a lot of Spanish-speaking players have playing in the United States and how the lack of interpreters on teams contributes to this. Union director Tony Clark is interested in what he had to say. From the Daily News:

There are number of challenges for a ballplayer when working and playing in a foreign country,” Clark responded in an email. “Needless to say, learning a new language is one of those challenges. As such, there are a number of programs currently in place to provide International Players support in this area as they develop and move through the minor leagues.

“Having said that, we would be very interested in having a discussion about providing additional support to players particularly considering the demands being placed on them to speak publicly and address the media.”

I think the term “discussion” is apt here, as it’s not at all clear that there is something certain to be done that everyone would agree on at the moment such as mandating interpreters or what have you. But the integration of players into every aspect of their job an existence in the United States is a worthy goal, and making sure they don’t have a problematic or adversarial relationship with the media or their own team due to communication problems is one way to achieve it.

  1. SBoy - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:08 AM

    Going back to the Beltran article… It does seem (providing an interpreter) to be what teams do for Asian players… Rather than rely on teammates, I think it should be a no-brainer for teams to provide an interpreter for players whose do not speak English or speak it well. Consider it part of their marketing and pr budget and something to make players feel more comfortable. Compared to the large investment in player salaries, I’m guessing an interpreter wouldn’t be much.

  2. larrytsg - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:19 AM

    I would have thought this was just common sense, but it seems that nothing is done just because it might seem to make sense.

    At the major league level, it would seem stupid NOT to have a Spanish speaking staffer on the payroll and traveling with the team. It seems that teams have no trouble getting a personal interpreter for Japanese players that they have a lot invested in, but can’t get a Spanish speaking coach/clubbie/trainer to be available for the multitude of Latin players on each team.

    I think the trouble is that these players need this support from the lowest levels of the minor leagues, not just after they have made the show. I can’t imagine living and playing in Clinton Iowa, Williamsport Pennsylvania, or anywhere else in rural USA without some language support (including ESL classes).

    One last thing, and I’m not one of those “Welcome to ‘Murica, speak American now!” types, but these players need to learn how to immerse themselves in a new language (with help from their employers).. One of my kids went to France for a year of High School, and we also hosted exchange students, and although they are a bit lost at first, by the end of a single year, they are more than fluent and confident in their new language.

    • historiophiliac - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:32 AM

      I also am in favor of using interpreters and helping players from other countries transition to the culture here by having mentors available to them. I find it interesting, though, that when Jose Iglesias came here, he opted not to room with a Spanish-speaking teammate. He wanted to immerse himself in the language, and his English is already superior to a number of players who have been here longer. Not everyone should have to do this or will want to — and some people just have a very hard time with languages. I don’t know what made the difference for Iggy, but I think it will help him in a lot of ways. That’s how it is in a new culture: you get advantages over other immigrants if you can make the transition better/easier.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:59 AM

      One last thing, and I’m not one of those “Welcome to ‘Murica, speak American now!” types, but these players need to learn how to immerse themselves in a new language (with help from their employers).. One of my kids went to France for a year of High School, and we also hosted exchange students, and although they are a bit lost at first, by the end of a single year, they are more than fluent and confident in their new language.

      Again, there’s a huge difference between a European exchange student, who by high school age has been taking years of organized ESL classes throughout school, and a 20 year old from the DR that’s been signed for 50k that hasn’t taken a single class.

      The other issue is that many of these guys speak some form of English, mostly conversation English. They could also probably hold a press conference in English using the Derek Jeter school of how to give an interview without saying anything of substance. However, when the media is going to parse every single word, and you use double negatives, the interviewee might get a little confused (Michael [Pineda] is it true or not true that your manager did not tell you to not use pine tar?)

    • davidpom50 - Apr 28, 2014 at 12:30 PM

      I’m pretty sure every team has Spanish speaking staffers traveling with the team – whether that’s other players, coaches, trainers, administrative personnel, whatever. It’s a very common language in baseball. However, unlike with players who speak primarily Asian languages, there is not a specific interpreter, who’s only job is to interpret. That’s unfair to the Spanish speaking players.

    • anxovies - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:29 PM

      The union should also be doing something about helping players to learn English. The trade unions traditionally provide training to apprentices and journeymen. A joint union/MLB program to teach Spanish-speaking minor leaguers and MLB players basic English communications skills would go a long way toward helping new players. Travel games would be a good place to hold sessions for players who want to participate, since they afford spare time in an unfamiliar city. Maybe have a few traveling instructors who rotate between the teams a few times a year? I also like the idea of matching Spanish-speakers with English-speakers on the road. A fast way to learn the other language by both teammates.

  3. shanabartels - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    It’s pretty staggering that the CBA hasn’t addressed this issue more thoroughly when there is such a pressing (pun not intended) need to reduce the opportunities for miscommunication or misinterpretation when players are expected to interact adeptly with the media. It would be really cool if we were all capable of becoming instant polyglots, but as most of us learned when trying to pick up a second language in middle school or high school classes that leave much to be desired, the brain just doesn’t work that way, no matter how determined one is to gain the ability to travel to another country and blend in with the native speakers.

    I think the minor leaguers do have access to some ESL classes, but even if the guys have time to fit that in (which they probably don’t have a lot of), just think for a minute about the quality of your average foreign language class. I got straight A’s in French class for ten years. I always loved learning the language and the culture and I think the language acquisition came more naturally to me than a lot of other students in my classes, but even after a decade, I am still far from fluent. I will never be fluent in French. And I can live with that, but it would be difficult even for someone like me who theoretically had a decade of preparation to just up and move to France and try to function there.

    So yes, it is important to fill in the gaps between the level at which international players are capable of expressing themselves in English on any given day, and the level at which the media needs their nuanced answers. It’s only fair.

  4. rbj1 - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    How long ago was Roberto Clemente? Native Spanish speaking players have been in MLB my whole life — and quit sending me membership requests AARP! Now interpreters is an issue? This should have been addressed 40 years ago.

    • historiophiliac - Apr 28, 2014 at 12:22 PM

      If you move a lot, it makes it harder for the AARP’ers to find you!

  5. ud1951 - Apr 28, 2014 at 1:15 PM

    If I am a ballplayer and for argument sake, I’m good, and I get a $10M offer to play baseball in Japan, but I don’t speak Japanese, I see that I have several options,

    (1) learn Japanese,
    (2) try to negotiate into my contract a provision to have the club to provide me a full time interpreter on their dime,
    (3) ignore the issue and hope some other player on the team will help me out when I need it,
    (4) always refuse to speak to the press unless they interview me in English or have an interpreter of their own
    (5) ask the player’s union to supply an interpreter or
    (6) pay for the interpreter myself.

    That is a lot of options. Anyone thinking the the only solution is that teams supply interpreters need to re-read that list of options. By the way, living in Japan, I might just need an interpreter outside the ballpark too. All these options are available to players in the US for whom Spanish is their primary language. Let’s not pretend they aren’t.

    • larrytsg - Apr 28, 2014 at 9:48 PM

      I see where you’re coming from, and with some of the highly touted Cuban players they have the scratch right away to do what they need interpreter wise, but what about the 16 year old kid from the Dominican Republic, who is playing somewhere in rural America with little to no help with his English skills. These are the players who put in a number of years bouncing around the minors until they’re 21 or 22 (5 or 6 years) with no real instruction in ESL.

      Dang, sorry for the run on sentence.

  6. Chris K - Apr 28, 2014 at 3:58 PM

    You guys should take a look at the movie, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar_%282008_film%29"Sugar. It’s a great movie about a Domincan’s journey from the island to the US after being signed out of an academy.

    • Chris K - Apr 28, 2014 at 3:59 PM

      I thought HTML would work :( the link is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar_%282008_film%29 and the movie is Sugar

  7. sportfan2 - Apr 29, 2014 at 7:02 AM

    Let them hire their own teachers. god knows they can afford it.

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