Michael Pineda and the challenges faced by non-English speaking players

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Andrew Marchand has an interesting story up over at ESPN. It’s about Michael Pineda and how far he has come since he was suspended for using pine tar while pitching in 2014.

It’s not really about how far he’s come on-the-field — Pineda is coming off of two below average seasons — but how far he’s come as a complete player and a person. Primarily with respect to his learning of English.

It’s not a “oh good, look at the foreign-born player assimilating!” story. It’s about how, whether a player makes a big effort to learn English or not, the language barrier creates all manner of difficulties that native English speakers never have to deal with. In the case of the pine tar, a quick, comfortable conversation between American players is likely sufficient to convey the dark art of using the stuff without getting caught. In Pineda’s case he wasn’t really able to talk to anyone about how blatant is too blatant in the majors.

That’s a minor point, of course, but the language barrier extends to every facet of life in the United States, especially for younger players who are adjusting to a new home. Everything from reading street signs to a menu is a challenge to some degree, and when everything you do during the day is slightly harder, the toll adds up. It’s also worth noting that Spanish speaking players did not even necessarily have team translators until this year. It wasn’t required until the recently-adopted Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Anyway, it’s a good look at a part of the game we don’t often see. And a reminder that a lot of players have challenges separate and apart from opposing batters and pitchers.