Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

June 18, 2014

Pitching has a universal language

BLUEFIELD — There may have been times when Jesus Tinoco cried himself to sleep when he first arrived in America.

For good reason.

“At first he used to cry and get homesick and stuff like that, but now he is kind of used to it,” said Bluefield Blue Jays pitching coach Antonio Caceras, who served as an interpreter for an interview with the Spanish-speaking Tinoco earlier this week.

Imagine living in a country where most everyone can communicate effectively. Everyone, that is, but you.

“It is very difficult, but you have to get used to it.” Tinoco said. “You have to adapt to it and you have to do the best you can and learn.”

A native of San Antonio de Maturin in Venezuela, Tinoco was like so many other American children who grew up dreaming of playing major league baseball.

“It is all he was thinking about since he was a little kid,” said Tinoco, who grew up following the Yankees and Twins, and patterns his game after Seattle pitcher Felix Hernandez. “It was his dream and he thanks God he is here now and he is on his way.”

Tinoco will get the ball for the first pitch of the 2014 season tonight when the Blue Jays open the Appalachian League season by hosting Johnson City. The first pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m.

“He is happy he is going in the first game and he is ready to go,” Caceres said, interpreting for Tinoco.

Throwing a baseball is far from the only obstacle faced by Tinoco, or other non-English speaking players in Bluefield. The Blue Jays do their part by providing classes to help with the adjustment.

“They take classes every day, they will take classes here,” Caceres said. “They have done a really good job, learning the language is tough sometimes. They have got a lot of on the field stuff, and then they have got to go off the field and go to class, it is kind of hard.”

The 19-year-old Tinoco has grown used to the challenges, having first signed as a free agent with Toronto at age 17. He worked 12 games in 2012 in the Dominican Summer League, and two more in the Gulf Coast League, posting a mark of 1-5 with a 4.40 ERA.

Tinoco returned to the GCL last season, starting nine of the 12 games he appeared in, finishing 0-5 with a 5.09 ERA, striking out 45 in 46 innings on the mound.

He continued to progress through extended spring training in Florida, and earned the opportunity to get the ball to start the 2014 season.

“He pitched great, he worked hard while he was down there to try and get here,” said Caceres, through Tinoco. “He is here now and he knows he has to pitch his best game.”

Caceres is excited about the potential of the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Tinoco, who has a large arsenal of pitches and a lively arm that can deliver baseballs to the plate at upwards of 97 miles per hour.

“He is a very exciting kid and he has got a pretty good arm,” Caceras said. “We has been impressed with what we have seen. He is 93 to 97, a really good sink of the ball, change-up, a big curveball.

“We really like him a lot, a big body, young kid, an exciting kid to watch.”

He is also willing to learn. Tinoco has a few more obstacles to his climb through the Toronto system thanks to the language barrier, including arriving at practice early each day to work on English.

“You have to concentrate on the baseball and the classes,” Caceras said. “Here, they have to go early at 12 o’clock and go to classes and then go practice.

“They have got to do a little more than the American guys, it is a little bit harder for them, but the sooner they learn the better.”

Ditto for Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg, who teaches all of his players the importance of being able to communicate.

“They say English is the toughest language of all, I would beg to differ,” Holmberg said. “I have tried French and I have tried Spanish, but they are coming here to play and that is the point.

“Whether it is interviews, TV, post-game, pre-game, communicating in the hotels and restaurants, it is not just looking at pictures, it is being able to do just enough to get by.

“It is only his second year. They will always get classes and just try to get them jump-started a little bit and they will find out how important it is.”

While language can be a barrier in terms of speaking, there aren’t any such issues with playing the game. Baseball is the same, no matter where it is played.

“Baseball is a universal sport, it is a universal game, and the language should be universal all the way around,” Holmberg said. “It could be Japanese, Korean, it could be Venezuelan, Dominican, Mexican, Dominican Republic.

“It is mostly the same questions. ‘How did you feel tonight, what did you think about the other team, what do you think about Bluefield.’

“It is all that stuff, they should be able to understand that.”

Tinoco can definitely understand what his role is with the Blue Jays, and his goals ahead are in place, no matter what the language.

“Just work hard and help the team,” Tinoco said, “and that’s it.”

—Contact Brian Woodson at bwoodson / Twitter @bdtwoodson.

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