Mariano Rivera opened up about his struggles to learn English early in his baseball career
Mariano Rivera was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on Sunday — a much-deserved honor for the best closer in baseball history.
When it came time for his speech, Rivera made a joke about going last — which was perfect — but he also shared a story from his first years as a professional baseball player.
Rivera signed with the Yankees out of Panama, and in his second year, he arrived to North Carolina without knowing a word of English. The language barrier was a huge source of stress for Rivera, and he told the crowd how he cried himself to sleep numerous times before asking his teammates to help him learn English.
“On my way to Tampa, 1990, I didn’t know what to expect. I was leaving my hometown, my family, my people. First time on a plane. Arriving to Miami. I don’t know where to go. No English. Thank God for the people that were there that help us.
“We got to Tampa. I don’t know what I was expecting. But God guided me through. At that time everybody, most of the guys I played with, they were Spanish, so they spoke Spanish.
“But my second year in professional baseball, I went to Greensboro, North Carolina, where not too many people spoke Spanish. I used to, at times, go to bed crying because I couldn’t communicate, couldn’t communicate with my teammates. I was frustrated. I was frustrated because no English, no relationship with my teammates, with my manager, my pitching coach. I made one of the biggest decisions and the greatest decision I made. I talked to a few of my teammates, one is here, Bob Dillard and his family. I asked them, ‘Guys, please I need to learn English.’
“‘Whatever I do, whatever things I said that is not right, please you can laugh all you want, but please teach me, teach me the right way.’ And they did. They never laughed. They never laughed.”
I realize MLB called the story “awesome,” but Rivera’s story showed how baseball has long struggled to welcome non-English-speaking players. Only in the past few years have we seen every club employ interpreters, and the Marlins are even requiring English-speaking players to take Spanish classes.
Every team should do the same.
After all, baseball is a game with international reach. Players shouldn’t have their ability to form relationships with teammates and coaches limited by a language barrier.
Rivera’s ability to overcome those systemic flaws, though, was awesome.
This content was originally published here.