Do you remember that high school Spanish class that gave you a hard time? Was it the verbs and the vocab or the speaking and spelling? That was a rough time wasn’t it? Now imagine having to learn that and then throw Japanese on top of it. I’ll give you a second to catch your breath because that is dizzying. At the Yankees’ Spring Training camp in Florida this is becoming the common practice. When the Yankees’ front office held a meeting early in the off-season they discussed their main free agent targets and goals. One of the biggest goals was creating a battery of catcher Brian McCann and pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and they’ve done just that. But Tanaka speaks little to no English and I’m sure McCann isn’t very familiar with the complicated Japanese language. Tanaka isn’t the only player on the team who hails from The Land of the Rising Sun. Ichiro Suzuki, Hiroki Kuroda, and relief pitcher Yoshinori Tateyama are all natives of Japan and, with the exception of Ichiro who learned English while with the Mariners, are working with Yankees officials to try and better understand the English language.
The Yankees handed out Living Language kits to Tanaka, Kuroda, and Tateyama as well as catchers McCann and Francisco Cervelli. It’s important for catchers and pitchers to be on the same page and feel comfortable with each other and as it stands now, the Yankees’ pitching staff contains only one player whose native tongue is English (C.C. Sabathia). Along with the Japanese speaking Tanaka and Kuroda, Ivan Nova is from the Dominican Republic and is a native Spanish speaker. Michael Pineda, who is competing for the 5th spot, is also far better at Spanish than English being from the Dominican. So after receiving his big contract from the Yankees, starting catcher Brian McCann is tasked with being familiar with his staff and with parts of their respective languages.
Tanaka spoke through an interpreter on the matter saying, “I feel happy about that, because it shows they are thinking about me.
The communication between me and my catchers is very important.”
It’s not all on McCann’s shoulder’s either. Francisco Cervelli is competing to be McCann’s backup and is a native from the Spanish speaking nation of Venezuela. If he wins the job he’ll need to be familiar with some aspects of Japanese having already learned English earlier in his career. Just the same, Kuroda and especially Tanaka have been receiving help with their English skills. After a recent outing Tanaka was able to express each of his many pitches in English while counting them on his fingers and walked by a group of reporters exclaiming “Finished!” after he was taken out of an impressive performance. In the scheme of things that’s important. If he recites his pitches in English it may help ease the communication between he and his teammates and coaches.
Whether it be English, Spanish, Japanese, French, Korean, Italian or Dutch, baseball is a language all it’s own. A barrier between dialects won’t stop the Yankees from seeing a big improvement from last year and it won’t take away from a player;s talent. Both Tanaka and Kuroda have been cool, calm, and collected on the mound and McCann has consistently shined as a leader on the field. I’m sure that it won’t be too long before they’re all familiar with one another. We all got a big laugh last year when Toronto Blue Jays’ shortstop Munenori Kawasaki shouted his Japanese nationality to the heavens in front of the crowd at Rogers Centre but lets get serious. This is the New York Yankees and we save the shouting for the ticker tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes.