23, sends half his salary home to Mexico where a family of nine depends on him.
Estrada is older than the other rookies and takes a more mature approach.
"I used to just play for fun," he said, "but now I have to support
my parents and family. It's a lot of pressure. And, of course, not knowing
English I never know where I stand here."
With all of the
Latins, knowledge of English is the key. Colon said with an impish smile,
"There are no Latinas here, so what can we do if we don't know
English?" A waitress in a restaurant near the Mets' hotel raised her eyes
ceiling-ward. "Oh, they know enough to get around," she said.
Because they can
communicate with him, Berlitz teacher Miner has become a good friend of the
players. Twice daily for 25 days he has held his classes in a player's hotel
room or at Payson Field. One evening, his forehead furrowed, blue eyes
distressed, Miner was forcing himself on the players, berating, scolding,
affirming, repeating. "We start naming objects—this is a table." They
repeated it. "This is a cup." They repeated it. "Now we
progress—the cup is on the table." Miner's biggest contribution may be that
he really has exerted himself for these youngsters; he has paid complete
attention to them. "We can appreciate that," said Bernardino Rivas, 18,
of Bella Vista, Dominican Republic.
veterans also were looking out for the newcomers, preparing them for the
problems, such as racism. "We have a saying," said six-year man Chico
Diaz. "The forewarned soldier does not die in war." Scout Escalera
accompanied his prospects to spring training. He has gotten them up at dawn for
breakfast and has kept the Mets constantly informed about the players' needs.
"Sometimes these kids won't even tell the coach when they're hurt because
they are embarrassed to speak English," Escalera said. "These are my
sons, my brothers, my paisanos and sometimes I am hard with them. Baseball is a
routine, a habit, and I teach them to behave. It's like the army and they learn
to take orders." His secret, Escalera suggested to Miner at the beginning
of the classes, was that "I am a Trujillo," referring, of course, to
the former Dominican dictator.
though, each Latin rookie knows that he must take care of himself. "One has
to sacrifice in life. One has to adjust," said 17-year-old Minaya. "I
try to remember a saying I was taught growing up at home: In the waters, I am
water. In the rivers, I am river. Among stones, I am stone."