Before the Sox played the Indians Thursday night, Marco Scutaro chatted with a few of the Cleveland players and staff members during batting practice and reminisced about old times. Marco started his professional career with the Indians, signing with them in 1994 when he was 18.
I asked him about those days and Marco told an interesting story.
Scutaro spent 1995 in extended spring training in Florida. Then in 1996, he was assigned to play for Columbus (Ga.) in the South Atlantic League. He was the youngest player on the team.
“I showed up there and couldn’t speak English,” Scutaro said. “They needed an infielder because somebody had moved up. So I went there and moved into that guy’s room at an apartment with some other Latin players.”
The group didn’t have a car, so they walked everywhere in Columbus. It was a 20-minute walk to a local mall that had a food court and then 20 minutes more to the ballpark. They retraced their steps after the game.
“We ate at the same place in the mall every day, a Mexican food place because the guys spoke Spanish,” Scutaro said. “I wanted to get Subway but I didn’t know how to tell them what I wanted.”
After a few months, Marco and his teammates realized that one of the places they walked by every day was an Applebee’s restaurant.
“We had no idea you could get food there,” Scutaro said. “I think about it now every time I see an Applebee’s.”
The best times, he said, were the road trips. There was different food and less walking.
“The baseball part was easy,” Scutaro said. “I could speak enough English to play baseball. But the rest of it was pretty hard. It was a tough way to live.”
Marco did find a friend in Ross Atkins, a pitcher who is now Cleveland’s vice president of player development. He befriended the Latin players and tried to help them out.
Teams do a much better job of helping Latin players out now, providing them support and educational resources. But it’s still a monumental task for these players to make it to the majors.
“The odds are against you,” Scutaro said. “There’s no pressure in the majors compared to what you go through in the minors a lot of times. That’s hard.”