Thu, Feb 28, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Marlins lead Spanish teaching push

AP, JUPITER, Florida

New Miami Marlins catcher Jorge Alfaro showed up for the team’s first full-squad spring training workout wearing a T-shirt that read: “I talk [trash] about you in Spanish,” with a word less publishable than “trash.”

The Marlins’ English speakers are onto him.

At the behest of CEO Derek Jeter, the Marlins last year began Spanish-language classes for coaches, and the program has since been expanded throughout the organization, from media relations to analytics to the front office.

Minor-league players who speak English are being taught Spanish, while Spanish-speakers learn English — part of a trend in the MLB toward more bilingual teams.

“We want to invest in the players outside of their athletic abilities — invest in them as human beings,” Jeter said.

The program for minor-league players extends beyond language — they are also taught life skills and cultural awareness, an asset for youngsters hoping to break into the big leagues.

The Marlins are not alone. About half of the 30 teams in the big leagues have begun offering Spanish lessons to English-speaking players in the past few years, MLB vice president Paul Mifsud said.

“The public focus on what the Marlins are doing has helped to improve both the quality of these kinds of initiatives and the expediency with which teams are adopting this,” Mifsud said.

Alfaro’s T-shirt was worn in jest, but potential cultural divides exist on any team, and the Marlins’ education program offers a bridge.

“We’re learning about each other,” vice president of scouting and player development Gary Denbo said. “We address cultural awareness: Why do Latin players listen to their music so loud? Why do American players take it so hard when they go 0-4 with the expectations placed on them by their families?”

“The work our education department is doing affects everything in our players’ lives. We cover cooking, shopping, nutrition and how to pay your bills and manage your money,” he added.

At the start of spring training, the Marlins held a cooking competition for top minor leaguers. The winning team of outfielder Connor Scott, shortstop Osiris Johnson and pitcher Jorge Guzman celebrated with whoops and high-fives.

The trio were white, black and Latin, and their chicken and broccoli stir-fry was reportedly delicious.

“You’ve got three guys from totally different worlds,” Denbo said. “And when they were announced as the winners, it was like they had won the World Series.”

“The better you know your teammates, the more you trust them,” Scott said. “I think that’s the biggest they’re preaching here — trust.”

Catcher Will Banfield said he has made progress speaking Spanish when meeting with Latino pitchers, although it is not always as difficult as it might seem.

“‘Curveball’ is ‘curveball,’” he said. “’Slider’ is ‘slider.’”

Still, Banfield said that learning Spanish would help him, off the field as well as on the mound.

The Marlins have hired six full-time teachers, plus part-time instructors. Every minor league affiliate would have a teacher this season, and when a team is at home, every player would receive Spanish, English or life skills lessons, Denbo said.

Marlins veterans applaud the program. Infielder Miguel Rojas, who is bilingual, said that improved language skills could ease the transition to the majors, especially in south Florida.

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