Lake Monsters break down language barrier one game at a time

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On a warm day in July, Marcos Brito adjusts his baseball cap, wiping sweat off his brow.

He wears the same Vermont Lake Monsters hat each of his teammates are wearing. He dons the same white and green cleats as they do. He does the same hitting drills, cycling in and out after meeting the criteria of batting practice. 

They all share the same goal — make it to the big leagues. For Brito, that runs parallel to another goal — learning to speak English.

Despite the constant roster moves in minor league baseball, the Lake Monsters fielded about ten players born in Spanish-speaking countries in the 2018 season.

Brito is one of them. In 2016, at the age of 16, he left his home of San Pedro De Macoris in the Dominican Republic and moved to the United States to play for the Arizona League Athletics, a rookie team affiliated with the Oakland A’s.

Brito spent 2017 with Arizona before jumping up to Class A to play for the Vermont Lake Monsters in 2018. 

The now 18-year-old takes English classes three times a week, on top of playing 76 games in three months.

“The most difficult thing is not knowing the language,” Brito said. “Without knowing the language, I can’t communicate with my teammates or coaches.”

Lake Monsters Manager Aaron Nieckula said it’s a challenge each season.

“Any time we get international players that come in that don’t understand or speak the language all that well, and for those of us on the coaching side of things that don’t speak it or understand it very well, it always presents an issue and an obstacle to communicate,” he said.

Nieckula added that the Spanish-speaking players tend to gravitate toward each other, creating a sense of comfort for them.

Brito echoed that sentiment, detailing how he spends his free time playing video games, hanging out, and laughing with his Spanish-speaking teammates, some of whom he lives with in his host family’s home.

“Yeah, we’re like a family because we’re always united, sharing things, talking, we’re always together,” Brito said.

He explained that he tries to learn one new word in English every day. On the day I spoke with him, the word of the day was “kitchen.”

One of his teammates, Alfonso Rivas, who is from Mexico, is now bilingual. He understands Brito’s position because he’s gone through the same process.

“I went to summer school for seven years, straight, starting in fifth grade,” Rivas said on his journey to learning English. “Then moving out in high school to another family, another English-speaking family, so that helped me cross the barrier of feeling comfortable with the language.”

Rivas said he tries to avoid being a translator for the Spanish- and English-speaking players. He said  it’s best to let them all learn and cross linguistic boundaries on their own.

Payton Squier, a Lake Monsters outfielder from Glendale, Arizona, enjoys the exchanging of words and slang that comes along with the language barrier, which he doesn’t really see as a barrier at all.

“They like to learn new things too,” Squier said. “Because, I mean, they’re in English classes all the time, and it’s the same for us. We try to learn Spanish and try to hop into their culture a little bit.”

Brito is still learning English, but that hasn’t stopped him from flourishing and growing while playing baseball in an English-speaking country. In fact, he said language is often not necessary while playing.

“Sometimes you just need to play. You don’t have to talk. You can just play and play, if you don’t want to talk you don’t have to.”

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