boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
ON BASEBALL

Successes, in any language

MINNEAPOLIS -- To a roll call that already included Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, you can now add Venezuela to the list of Spanish-speaking places that have done their part to produce runs for the Red Sox this year.

Needless to say, you won't get much sympathy in these parts for one Larry Krueger, the San Francisco sports-talk show host who caused an uproar after last week berating the Giants for their ''Caribbean brain-dead hitters hacking at slop nightly," and also took a shot at Giants manager Felipe Alou, the team's Dominican-born manager, saying his ''mind had turned into Cream of Wheat."

''There are a lot of haters out there," said Sox designated hitter and native Dominican David Ortiz, who combined with his Spanish-speaking brethren -- Edgar Renteria (Colombia), Manny Ramirez (Dominican Republic) and Roberto Petagine (Venezuela) -- to account for nine hits, eight runs, and eight RBIs in yesterday's 11-7 win over the Twins, which prevented the Sox from being swept.

''You don't speak the language, but you make a lot of money; they want to make it worse on you," Ortiz said. ''That happens a lot. That's hating. That's life, you know."

Alex Cora (Puerto Rico) went hitless in four trips and also made two throwing errors, but with the Sox jumping out to a 5-0 lead after one and 10-3 after they'd hit in the seventh, the miscues did not leave lasting scars, and Cora was able to give Bill Mueller a much-needed day off.

Petagine is the newbie on the list. He had gone seven years between major league hits -- a single while batting between the Boone brothers, Bret and Aaron, on the Cincinnati Reds -- before he cleared the bases of three Sox runners with his fourth-inning double yesterday. You can forgive the 34-year-old Petagine, who had spent the interim stamping himself as the best gaijin (foreign-born) slugger in Japan, a tick behind native hero Hideki Matsui, for getting cut down trying to stretch the hit into a triple. It had been a while.

''It was good, very good, I'm very excited after all these years to get a hit," said Petagine, who came up a highly touted prospect with Houston but went to San Diego in 1995, when a young Theo Epstein was still posting birthday messages on the Padres' Jumbotron scoreboard, in an 11-player deal between the Padres and Astros, the same deal that brought stars Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley to San Diego.

His first big-league hit came that year off Astros pitcher Doug Brocail, who went to Houston in the same trade.

This season, Petagine hit .327 with 20 home runs and 69 RBIs in 74 games for Triple A Pawtucket after signing a make-good contract with the Sox in the offseason, but it took John Olerud's hamstring injury for him to receive a summons from the Sox on Thursday. Asked if it had reached the point where he wondered if the call would ever come, Petagine shook his head.

''You just keep playing until the opportunity comes. Continue to play hard, harder, and harder."

Forty-five minutes before the start of yesterday's game, Ramirez was in a hallway outside the visitors' clubhouse, heaving a medicine ball against the wall. Twenty minutes before the game, he ducked back into the clubhouse after taking a few more practice swings in the cage. Then he went out and went 4 for 4, including his league-leading 31st home run, an opposite-field, 405-foot blast one pitch after J.C. Romero had brushed him back.

Hacking at slop? Yeah, right.

Krueger was suspended for a week by the station, which an incredulous Alou likened to a ''slap on the hand." Krueger also offered an apology, which the proud Alou said he could not accept.

''If I say I accept it," he told reporters, ''all the Latin players will never forgive me."

A crazy thing for Krueger to say?

''That's not crazy, it's stupid," said Tony Oliva, the great Cuban-born outfielder who starred for the Twins in the '60s and '70s, before Latin-born players dominated the game in the numbers they do now. ''I think the guy made a very big mistake, and he should apologize. If you take away the Spanish players, you don't have baseball."

That's only a mild exaggeration. Of the roughly 750 players on major league rosters on Opening Day this season, 197 came from Latin countries, 91 from the Dominican Republic alone. Let the names of the game's biggest stars roll off your tongue: Rodriguez, Ramirez, Pujols, Ortiz, Martinez, Tejada, Cabrera, Hernandez . . . the list goes on and on.

Oliva, who spoke almost no English when he first arrived in the big leagues, said he was fortunate to have Camilo Pascual and Zoilo Versalles to translate for him.

''I've never had problems with somebody in the media -- I can't complain about that," Renteria said yesterday morning. ''But if someone is talking about Latin players, I'd be upset, because we are like a family, you know. We're here to work. We bring a lot to the game. Every year there are more Latin players, and more Latin superstars. The Latins put good things in baseball.

''People have to remember, English is our second language. We try to get people to understand what we're feeling, but sometimes I don't like to speak because I don't want say something stupid, or say something that will offend somebody. Maybe people will take it the wrong way. Maybe in Spanish it means a different way."

Alou, who experienced profound prejudice, especially as he made his way through the minors in the late '50s, was saddened to hear such attitudes expressed today. His son, Moises, complained that Latin players are still fighting similar battles today. ''In the minor leagues, people think all Dominicans, Mexicans, and Venezuelans are dumb," he told Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. ''You think if a guy doesn't speak English it's because he's stupid. You go to the Dominican and try to have a conversation in Spanish, and see how easy it is."

Some teams, like the Red Sox, have put a premium on orientation programs and English classes for their Spanish players, but much remains to be done. There is a paucity of Spanish surnames in MLB's hierarchy, team front offices, and PR staffs.

And for the most part, the players are dealing with English-speaking media.

It was just a couple of years ago, remember, that Pedro Martinez bitterly complained after the Sammy Sosa corked-bat episode that the media were harder on Sosa because he was Dominican, and last year Ortiz wondered why all the commercial endorsements were going to Curt Schilling.

But now Big Papi is shilling for Comcast and D'Angelo's, and said that for the most part, he has been treated OK.

''Brain dead?" Oliva said. ''You can't be brain dead to play baseball, because you always have to adjust. Latin players, they're smart. I have friends all over the world, Spanish friends and English-speaking friends. They don't care. If you're good, you're good."

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives