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Padres breaking down language barrier

Padres breaking down language barrier

PEORIA, Ariz. -- It was almost halfway though class on Tuesday when instructor Bryan Miley stopped himself in mid-sentence to get a point across to one of his pupils.

"Gentlemen," Miley politely implored his students, "I need for all of you to speak in full sentences."

This is not an uncommon occurrence for Miley, who is in his fourth year of teaching the English language to the Padres' Latino players, an experience he finds as challenging as it is rewarding.

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But this isn't one of those classes and these are definitely not Miley's standard students.

The Padres have employed Miley to teach front-office staff, Minor League coaches and roving instructors, trainers and anyone else who shows up to Spanish instruction aimed toward narrowing the language barrier between player and staff.

It's a program Randy Smith, the Padres' director of player development, and who has a front row seat twice a week for class, has instituted. Smith has enlisted Miley, who is a foreign language instructor at nearby Glendale Community College, to teach.

"It's not just about learning Spanish," Miley said, taking another break from his lesson. "It's about showing respect to them, showing them that you're embracing their culture. Not only will you reap the benefits, but you're doing what's right."

Keep your eyes on the ball: Mantenga los ojos en la Bola

The Padres certainly aren't the first to offer English classes to Latin players. But they are one of the few who offer the opposite: Teaching front office staff and others Spanish to help them with their everyday conversations with players.

"It's something I thought was important to make us efficient when dealing with players when we're going to the Dominican or with our players who are just coming here and don't have command of the English language yet," Smith said.

"It shows that as an organization that we're making an effort to reach out to these kids. Language is a major issue. I'm asking for two hours a week for maybe nine hours this spring. It's a beginning, it's a start. Our guys have been receptive to it."

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That much is evident on a Tuesday when, long after players have departed for the day, a group of 15 or so have gathered in a back room of the Padres' spring facility, in a room adjacent to the cafeteria for another round of class.

Stay back and wait for the ball: Permanezca atras y espera al bola

For an hour, Miley's students conjugate Spanish verbs and present progressives. Miley asks as many questions as he takes. The discussion is lively, interactive, not unlike a normal classroom setting with college students.

Only students, in this sense, sounds a little funny, especially when you're talking about guys like roving catching instructor Duffy Dyer, who is 64 and made his Major League debut in 1968.

No, this isn't a traditional Spanish class, Miley said.

This class is geared toward baseball-specific terms, ones these coaches can use to better communicate with players. And, if you can believe it, in Miley's class, cheat sheets are welcomed. He has handed out a small list of baseball-specific terms coaches can use on the field.

"They get the skills in a matter of days in what would normally take several semesters," Miley said. "I dispense with the building blocks and go right to what's to important to them. I'm not trying to teach them to be conversant but I'm teaching them how to give instructions.

"I'm very pleasantly surprised at how quick they're picking it up."

That's perfectly fine with roving hitting instructor Tony Muser, who played parts of nine seasons in the Major Leagues and managed the Kansas City Royals from 1997-2002. He and the other coaches simply don't have the time or need for a comprehensive class. This suits their schedule and their needs.

Muser said this is something he wishes had been available to him years ago.

"I think communication is huge. Hey, sometimes even from English to English it's hard to communicate when you get lost in semantics and words," Muser said. "With Spanish, there's so much more space there to not to get your point across.

"When you're coaching and teaching, those words are super important."

Use the middle of the field: Usa el medio del terreno

Miley's class is lively. He keeps things light. The participants pick up on this and often engage him with questions. Miley starts each class by simply asking if anyone has any questions, presumably from something that might have come up since the last class.

Almost instantly, Gary Jones, a roving infield instructor, shoots his hand in the air.

"How long until we become fluent," Jones said, drawing scattered laughs from his peers.

"The end of the day," Miley said, smiling.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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