Jose Iglesias spoke two languages when he defected from Cuba in 2008: Spanish and baseball.
Over the last four years, Iglesias has challenged himself to become fluent in English as well. It is just as much of a priority as it is to become part of the Boston Red Sox.
The 22-year-old shortstop sees the two going hand-in-hand. He believes better communication can lead to better play on the field.
Its good for me, for my career, for my development, for my communication with my teammates. I live here in the United States so I have to speak in English, Iglesias said. It was a little difficult in the beginning because you cant communicate really well with your teammates. But its a process. Right now I feel better, I can talk a little bit with my teammates, were hanging out a little more.
This spring training, Iglesias was noticeably more comfortable speaking English than he was at the end of last season. Rather than sitting at his locker and watching conversations from afar, he approached his teammates to be part of the chatter.
Engaging in small talk is just one way Iglesias works on improving his English. During the offseason he also exchanged text messages with his teammates and went to the movies to see English-language films (comedies are his favorite). He jokes that his winter home of Miami is the worst place to learn a second language because Spanish is widely spoken, but he makes it a point to speak in English there as much as possible.
Iglesias teammates have taken notice to the improvement in his communication during the offseason.
Hes a very smart kid and hes willing to learn, said shortstop Mike Aviles. Not just in baseball, but in the transition from Cuba to here in America. That alone, he has that drive on the inside of him that helps him get better at everything and I think thats a big part of it. I know he can communicate very well in the Spanish language and it kind of maybe bothers him to not be able to communicate like he wants to in English. I think that little bit of bother is what drives him to pick up the language and actually try harder. Hes done an unbelievable job.
In all honesty, sometimes a lot of guys are timid to step outside the box and in his case hes not shy at all. Hes a very outgoing person and if you get to know him in his native language, you can tell how outgoing and energetic he is. He wants to be the same person that he is speaking Spanish as he is speaking English. I think thats the big drive behind all of it for him.
For second baseman Dustin Pedroia, communicating with Iglesias is critical to their success together on the field. He praised Iglesias for wanting to learn English early on in his career.
When he signed, he roomed with Nate Spears, said Pedroia. A lot of times when guys come over here, they room with Latin guys so they can feel more comfortable. But Iggy wanted to make sure that he started learning English right away. Its good for him. Its smart . . . I need him to speak English because I dont speak Spanish. But hes learning, hes doing a great job. Hes still young. Hes learning every day.
When it comes to his bilingual teammates, Iglesias speaks to them in English instead of relying on their common understanding of Spanish. Aviles, who is of Puerto Rican descent, noted Iglesias is not afraid to ask questions to further his learning.
Its kind of like an exchange program, said Aviles. Sometimes my Spanish doesnt quite come out the way I want it and hell help me with it. And theres times, too, when he wants to say something in English and Ill explain, you say it like this, and hes like, 'All right, cool.'
I always come back with random one-liners when people say things to me, like sarcasm, and so he was asking me about that the other day. He said, Youve got to help me with some of the sarcasm stuff. That willingness to learn, in that sense, hes like that on the field and off the field. I think thats a big part of his development.
Iglesias will start this season in Triple-A Pawtucket but is expected to see playing time at Fenway Park. With a place on the team would come an increase in media exposure. Iglesias is aware of the importance in being able to communicate effectively with reporters.
We are on a special team and in a special media, he said. We have a lot of media here so you have to get better in your language because you have to be able to communicate, to say the right thing in the right moment. But I think I feel good with that. Im doing better. Not 100 percent, not perfect, but better.
In the meantime, he has tried to share some of his native language with his teammates.
Pedroia sometimes says some words like, Im youre papa, Iglesias said, smiling. I try to teach him a couple words, but no chance (laughs).
No matter which language he says it in, Pedroia and his Red Sox teammates are happy with the improvements they have seen in the young shortstop.
He wants to be good, said Pedroia. He wants to be great. You pull for guys who work that hard. Some guys just have to work hard on the field. He has to work hard off the field just to learn stuff. So were all pulling for him.