COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. (WOOD) - Learning how to be a professional athlete isn't the only thing the Whitecaps are trying to teach their players. Some prospects for Detroit Tigers are also learning to speak the language.
With just six games left in the regular season, the West Michigan Whitecaps are still in the hunt for a playoff berth. For many of the young players with the team, it has also been their first full season of professional baseball -- and in some cases, their first time away from home.
Venezuelan native Eugenio Suarez was only 19 years old when he came to the United States alone with dreams of playing in the major league.
"For me, it was very emotional," Suarez told 24 Hour News 8 through a translator. "It was the first time I left my country and leave behind my family. I've never done that before and for such a long time."
Landing, learning and succeeding at any first professional job can be difficult and demanding. It's perhaps even more demanding to do so in an ultracompetitive field like major league baseball in a foreign county where you don't speak or understand the language.
"It's difficult, especially with communication with the other ball players," Suarez told 24 Hour News 8 in Spanish. "On the field, sometimes I'm the only one who speaks Spanish. I don't dominate the language very well. I understand some, but still working slowly being able to talk in English to my fellow players."
So before almost every home game, Suarez takes both batting practice and English class.
"The classes help a lot," he said in Spanish. "Yes, it's very difficult because it's a language I don't know, a culture that is not the same as my country, but with patience, everything is possible.'
Suarez takes the English class in a stadium suite along with several other Whitecaps teammates.
"We are all in the same situation," he said in Spanish. "There are some that know the English language better than others and they help you. It's difficult."
Suarez is known as the teacher's pajarito.
"In Spanish, pajarito means parrot and Eugenio loves to learn English, and imitate and repeat the words and the sounds," said Whitecaps English teacher Sandra Olsen. "I call him my pajarito because if I say a word, he'll repeat it."
"I feel good about the English class. It's better," Suarez said in English. "I feel the communication about these people, my team, it's very important."
And while Suarez is making progress in the classroom, he has shined on the field.
"Things have gone well and I hope to get to the big leagues and play for the Tigers," he said in Spanish. "It's a dream of mine I hope I can achieve."
Suarez is a slick fielding shortstop with both power and speed who has hit around 300 all year. He has quickly gone from an undrafted free agent signee to one of the Tigers' top prospects.
"The competition is very difficult," said Suarez in Spanish. "Above me, there is a lot of talent. But I do not think about that. It's hard, but I confide in my work and with God's help I can achieve it."
A memorial is scheduled Thursday night for three young siblings who died in an apartment fire 10 months ago.
A donation account has been set up to help the family with its search to find a missing loved one.
Wind chills will be in the single figures Thursday, with snowfall totals in the 1- to 3-inch range.