PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — On the field, the Whitecaps are pros, but when they’re spending time in the classroom, they’re playing a totally different ballgame.
Several players on the team arrived in the United States from Spanish-speaking countries to play baseball and most of them have little to no knowledge of the English language.
That’s where the Tigers Organization is stepping up to the plate. They’ve employed educators across their minor league affiliates to help the international players learn English.
“When we came to this United States for the first time, the difficult part is the English and it’s really hard to have a conversation with your teammates,” said infielder Carlos Irigoyen.
Twice a week during a Whitecaps home series, they’ll meet in the classroom for a one-hour English class. Cornerstone professor Michael Pasquale has been teaching English to the minor league players in West Michigan for six years.
“I’ve been a Tiger fan my whole life, so being able to feel like I’m part of the process and helping the team in a small way is very rewarding,” Michael Pasquale said.
The results speak for themselves. Irigoyen first came to the United States from Venezuela when he was 18 years old, barley speaking English when he arrived.
“You don’t have the confidence, you have fears to talk, and the class helps you to have confidence with what you’re trying to say,” said Irigoyen.
“I just love being able to see the practical results,” said Michael Pasquale. “When players will be interviewed, will have confidence in speaking to the media or to even just fans.”
Bridging the language gap has also brought the clubhouse closer together.
“For us to be able to understand each other, I think says a lot about our players and what they want to do and the commitment to continue to get better,” said Whitecaps manager Brayan Peña.
Learning a second language is nearly just as important as their talents on the diamond, since baseball careers won’t last forever.
“It’s great to be able to give them a skill they really need,” said Monica Pasquale, another English educator in the class. “Not only to be able to communicate with their classmates and with their coaches. … But also just a valuable skill for them in life, so when they’re done with their baseball jobs, they can get another job off the field.”
“I love English, and it’s really nice for your family to say, ‘You know what, I can speak both languages,’ and that’s amazing,” said Irigoyen.