MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The Minnesota Twins are enjoying a successful start to their season, sitting on top of the AL Central.
This season, half of the team's 40 man roster was born outside the US. Seventeen are native Spanish speakers, mostly from Venezuela and Dominican Republic.
You don't have to talk with Twins second baseman Brian Dozier long to hear he's a Mississippi boy, but listen again and you'll hear that twang in a different language.
The number of Major League Baseball players from Central and South America is growing rapidly. And that doesn't include the players waiting to be called up.
Knowing many of his teammates couldn't speak his language, Dozier took it upon himself to learn theirs.
"I think the language barrier throughout the minor leagues was difficult," Dozier said. "It was difficult to get to know each individual that's not from around here."
Nearly half of the 2015 roster grew up speaking Spanish. But just three of the Twins' players and coaching staff speak both Spanish and English. Dozier is one of them.
After being drafted by the Twins in 2009, Dozier returned to the University of Southern Mississippi to complete his degree and signed up for Spanish classes.
"It wasn't until I got to the Minor Leagues with some Latin guys when I really took it upon myself. I wanted to learn how to interact, not just say 'how are you doing.' But Really get the depth of Spanish and that sort of thing," Dozier said.
On the field, Dozier will call plays in Spanish making things a little easier for the other infielders, including Eduardo Escobar and Danny Santana. For them, learning a new language has come with a steep learning curve.
"I try and am working hard. This year I'm doing better," Escobar said. "Dozier is helping me a lot. He's my friend. He'll talk to me in Spanish and English so it's good."
"I can have a conversation with someone, but I have to ask the person to speak slower to be able to understand," Santana explained. "It's harder to write than speak [English]. Every year you learn a little bit more and you try to learn more and more by talking with your teammates."
Escobar said interviews with the media are still hard.
"I always try to do my best and when I don't know it, I just don't respond," he said.
Like most of the American-born players, Manager Paul Molitor doesn't speak much Spanish because he doesn't have to. Coaches Eddie Guardado and Rudy Hernandez will help him in the dugout if needed.
"There are some things that are universal about our game," Molitor said. "And there's a lot of gestures you can put in with your message. The guys know enough words to get the gist of what you're saying."
To help the new Latin players, the Twins hold mandatory English classes for minor leaguers. Once players are called up, the team continues to offer help, but it's rarely used, turning teammates into tutors.
Dozier said Escobar and Santana are well on their way to learning English. And now the teacher has become the student. The players will speak English to Dozier and he'll respond in Spanish to improve his bilingual skills. A reminder that learning to speak another language is like learning to play the game; practice makes perfect.
Dozier and his wife Renee spend part of the off-season in Nicaragua doing mission work with the group Amigos for Christ. While there, they speak very little English.
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