News Column

Chicago Cubs Seek Bilingual Edge

October 17, 2013

As a Spanish-speaking minor league player in the Astros' organization 25 years ago, Luis Gonzalez always had his Ford Explorer full of Latin teammates.

"I never drove to the stadium alone," Gonzalez laughed as he recalled the help he provided.

The Cubs apparently are looking for someone to provide that assistance on the field. Three of the four publicized candidates for manager -- Manny Acta, Rick Renteria and Dave Martinez -- are fluent in Spanish.

That doesn't necessarily eliminate A.J. Hinch, but the Cubs are expected to have more of a Spanish-speaking influence on their staff in a strong effort to deliver a clear message in aiding the likes of their prized young Latin players, such as Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora.

"It's very important nowadays to have a highly respected coach who is bilingual," Cubs pitcher and Dominican native Carlos Villanueva wrote in an email. "I don't necessarily believe the manager has to be bilingual, but a bench coach a la Dave Martinez or Renteria, for example, who have a position of authority and can communicate with Latin American players as well as English speaking players."

Villanueva, 29, who learned to speak English while growing up in the Dominican, has witnessed the struggles of Latin players adjusting to baseball in the United States.

"I still have to fill (out) paperwork for some of the players who can't read or write, or that have problems with the language," Villanueva wrote. "And I gladly do it because I understand how lucky and blessed I am to have had a chance to be well-educated in a third world country."

Gonzalez, 46, who played two of his 18 seasons with the Cubs and is a special assistant with the Diamondbacks, explained the advantages of a bilingual staff.

"It's one thing to show a batter about a flaw or how to make a change in his stance," said Gonzalez, a Cuban-American who grew up in Tampa. "But when you can explain it in a language a player can understand, it can make a big difference."

Among last season's Cubs staff, Franklin Font is a Venezuelan native but his role as a staff assistant prevented him from suiting up for games, sitting in the dugout and providing instant assistance.

Gonzalez and Villanueva each emphasized the comfort factor, especially in helping young players grow quickly.

"You're seeing younger players come to the states, and they're given a chance to advance quickly," Gonzalez said. "They're asked to mature quickly, and it becomes even more important when you're playing in a big city like Chicago. It helps to have that veteran player or coach around at that level because the pace is rapid."

Villanueva added: "You don't want to be investing $3 million to $5 million on a kid, and then have him stuck for an unnecessary amount of time at a lower level just because of a communication problem when these kids can help at the big league level at a quicker pace."

Gonzalez said encouraging American players to play winter ball can help everyone in the organization.

"I saw it both ways," said Gonzalez, who played in Mexico and Venezuela. "The American guys leaned on me on where to eat. These guys are going to be playing with Latin teammates who play out of their country for at least seven months. In the long run, it will help everyone more when they play in the states."

Extra innings: Reliever Daniel Bard will pitch for Caguas of the Puerto Rican League this winter, the team announced in a tweet.

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(c)2013 the Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Original headline: Cubs seek bilingual edge



Source: (c)2013 the Chicago Tribune


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