By Sweeny Murti
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TAMPA, Fla. — Maybe it’s not such a big deal, but I think it is to him. And for me, it makes Gleyber Torres stand out.
Torres spoke to reporters for nine minutes Saturday, and he conducted the entire session in English, breaking only twice to look at interpreter Marlon Abreu for a correct word. Otherwise, Abreu stood silently and listened to a comfortable back and forth between the group of Yankees beat reporters and the team’s highest-rated prospect.
A native Venezuelan, Torres just turned 21 in December. A year ago, he conducted interviews with Abreu interpreting both questions and answers in Spanish. Now, as he tries to show the Yankees he is major league ready on the field, it took only a few minutes to show that he is getting major league ready off the field.
“I practice English every time,” he said. “I want to explain how I feel or what I want to say. I think it’s best important for the fans and the media, too. Sometimes I feel like embarrassing or something like that because my English is not perfect. But I practice for talk a like perfect English and explain how I feel, how I want to say.”
There is nothing embarrassing about this, Gleyber.
What’s embarrassing is that I took Spanish classes in both high school and college, have covered dozens of Spanish-speaking players over the last 18 years, and I can have only a simple conversation in that language. I used to try to practice with Mariano Rivera, but I never got beyond three or four sentences before I gave up and we both laughed.
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with any player who chooses to speak to reporters in his native tongue. It can be highly intimidating to have a group of people pepper you with questions in a language you struggle to understand or speak well. Allowing a player to be more comfortable in that setting allows for a better message to be delivered, and it is one of the reasons the Major League Baseball Players Association fought so hard to finally make interpreters mandatory for Latin American ballplayers.
But it will certainly register with fans when they hear Torres’ own voice — not that of an interpreter — answer questions about a big win or a big loss. It’s a step toward not just being a great player, but being a leader and a team spokesman.
Anybody that’s seen Torres play baseball says he has star written all over him. We will see this spring if his time is now. But what is clear is that the level of character and commitment it takes to be that good at the game is the same level he is showing off the field so he can better communicate with coaches, teammates, media and fans.
One of my favorite sights of spring training used to be when Rivera would sit at his locker before the morning workout with five or six Spanish-speaking players gathered around him, some sitting on the floor like it was preschool story time. They would talk about baseball, about family, about life, about God. It was as if these kids were aching to soak up every bit of wisdom they could from the great Mariano.
If Torres becomes the star people think he will be, I can see a day in a spring training down the road when young Latin American ballplayers gather like schoolkids around his locker.
Please follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN