BOSTON (AP) — Red Sox All-Star Rafael Devers is practicing with his teammates both on and off the field.
Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, the 25-year-old quickly rose through the minors, becoming one of the game’s best hitters and brightest stars. He was voted the American League’s starting third baseman for the second straight year. He’s batting .326 with 19 homers and 51 RBIs.
Signing with Boston at just 16, there’s another thing he’s had to work at off the field after coming to the United States — learning and speaking the English language.
Devers speaks English well, but prefers to use a translator. He listens to questions and answers in Spanish before it’s translated.
“I just don’t feel really comfortable doing the interviews in English. I feel comfortable sometimes, but I know I need to learn even more,” he said through team publicist Carlos Villoria Benítez. “I don’t like to make mistakes doing interviews or saying something I shouldn’t. I’m going to keep working at that.”
Devers made his debut with the Red Sox at age 20 after spending just three seasons in the minors, starting in the Gulf Coast League in Fort Myers, Florida. There, he realized the challenge of a new place, a different language.
“It’s not easy,” said Devers, who added he hasn’t taken any English classes. “It’s not something you do overnight, but I try my best to learn the language. It’s really hard for everybody that comes here, not only a baseball player, but everybody.”
Now he says he can turn a phrase with his teammates on the field or in the dugout.
“I’m pretty comfortable speaking English with my teammates and my coaches,” said Devers, who is called “Little Papi” by some fans in reference to Red Sox star and recently elected Hall of Famer David Ortiz.
Cardinals star Albert Pujols, also born in the Dominican before moving to New York and then Missouri as a teen, knows what the young star has gone through.
“I didn’t know the language. I had to learn it in high school. I had to learn it and finish high school,” Pujols said. “It was hard, but it’s like everything you want to accomplish in life; you have to put your mind into it and your heart, too. I always put my mind into it.”
Pujols knows how difficult it can be for young players to learn the language while they’re playing. English as a Second Language (ESL) classes have been offered by teams to minor league players as an industry standard for decades, but franchises vary in the extent to which they work to help players adapt to life in the United States. Major league clubs are also mandated to offer ESL classes if players want them.
“You don’t need English to communicate in baseball, but you do need to speak English to communicate outside with the media and with the fans,” said the 42-year-old Pujols, who announced he’ll retire after this season.
Boston manager Alex Cora said he was proud of Devers after he completed one of his first interviews in English during a postgame on the team’s flagship radio station two months ago.
Whether it’s extra BP, more grounders or spending time chatting with fellow players, Devers knows he’s getting better.
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