Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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July 16, 2014

Learning English

English lessons paying off for MLB teams

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — During a friendly dugout chat before a game, Hector Sanchez joked about the hazards of catching for hard-throwing San Francisco starter Tim Lincecum because of the number of balls that must be stopped in the dirt.

"Another day at the office," he said, grinning.

Sanchez uses the typical English phrase naturally these days after hours of hard work in English classes while playing in the minor leagues. He puts his improved English skills right up there with his biggest strides on the field, which include catching Lincecum's June 25 no-hitter.

Hundreds of other young Latin American players around the country are also speaking with ease, thanks to greater resources devoted to teaching English skills and other day-to-day tasks in American life as part of the transition to baseball in the U.S. All 30 major league teams now have academies in the Dominican Republic, and a handful of organizations run similar operations in Venezuela as well.

"There's no doubt it's different today than it was a generation ago for these players, with the media coverage, the impact of social media, the coverage, the television, everything," San Diego Padres manager Bud Black said. "These guys are exposed."

Sanchez's Giants say they have increased spending by 400 percent over the past decade.

"It has increased steadily each year as we have added more components to the assimilation program," said Alan Lee, Giants Director of Arizona Baseball Operations.

The Giants estimate they have helped train 325 Latin players with English skills in the last 15 years, while also providing Spanish training for those seeking to learn. Roughly 200 players have taken Spanish courses in the past four years.

Black and several other managers and GMs say there are fewer issues in which the language barrier causes their jobs to be more challenging than even five years ago. For example, most managers now make their pitching changes without the aid of an interpreter.

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