GJ Rockies' foreign-born players practice their 2nd language at Central assembly
Jorge Oviedo drew a smattering of cheers when he expressed his love of Spanish soccer team FC Barcelona and its star player, Lionel Messi.
Ramon Marcelino received a more thorough round of applause when he said that Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is his favorite athlete.
By the end of Central High School’s assembly Tuesday morning, foreign-born members of the Grand Junction Rockies received a standing ovation from roughly 1,400 students at the conclusion of their English language presentations. Players from South and Central America gave students an inside look at their lives by narrating a short PowerPoint presentation in English. Many players showed pictures of their families, as well as their favorite food, athletes and movies.
Some players, like pitcher Jan Lopez, were presenting for the second straight year. Others were using English in an extremely public setting for the first time. Still, Lopez said the opportunity to speak English in front of a large audience is a helpful part of player development.
“It’s a really nice experience,” Lopez said. “A lot of people (are) scared sometimes, nervous.”
The Colorado Rockies organization places a heavy emphasis on cultural development — helping players from the Dominican Summer League transition to professional baseball in America. A big portion of that is learning English, something stressed from the DSL, during their transition to Rookie-level Grand Junction and until Double-A Hartford.
Josh Rosenthal supervises the organization’s cultural development program and said breaking the language barrier can mean long-term success for foreign players.
“When they train in the Dominican Republic for the first couple years of their career, they live and work and everything happens at the same complex,” Rosenthal said. “It’s very structured. Here, they have a lot more freedom, a lot more responsibility, and on top of all that they’re dealing with the language difficulties. These guys do a great job and they’re working really hard on and off the field to make sure they have the best chance of completing their dreams.
“The guys who reach the big leagues, they have elite work ethic. That’s really what we’re trying to instill in them — elite work ethic. We push our guys off the field, culturally, until they reach High-A, Double-A. We’re pushing them really, really hard because we want them to be prepared as possible when it’s their turn to play in the big leagues or whatever it is they want to do after their careers are over.”
Although Rosenthal oversees a large number of players across the organization, instructing the athletes’ English falls to Central Spanish teacher Jacob Pingel.
Players have spent roughly the past two months honing their English skills and Pingel said a high-pressure situation is ideal for testing their skills.
“In my opinion, this is one of the best advantages that the Rockies have that nobody else has,” Pingel said. “Taking guys at the bottom level and putting them in front of this many people and have them do something that is challenging, like talking about themselves in another language. With as little preparation as they’ve had, this helps prepare them for standing in front of tens of thousands of people some day in a ballpark.”
After the event, players chatted and posed for pictures with students. Lopez said the entire event, and the classes, are key to being successful in Minor League Baseball.
“English very important because of my teammates,” Lopez said. “(There are) a lot of American players and I can help make the team better (by knowing English).”