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Some clubs—the Mariners and Chicago White Sox, for example—conduct English language classes for players during spring training. The Mariners even provide copies of training manuals and contracts written in Spanish.
Most clubs don't emphasize language study. The Reds held Spanish classes for their managers, coaches and instructors during spring training in 1980, but discontinued them this year. "It's a tough go for the coaches—they're on the field all day and have only a few nights a week off," says Reds vice-president of player personnel Sheldon Bender, by way of explanation.
•Finally, complaints that Latins are signed before they are ready—athletically and emotionally—to emigrate to the United States.
"The big problem for everybody scouting in Latin America is free agency," says Amaro. "We would like, ideally, to sign players when they're older. But with free agency, with no draft of amateur players, you can't wait. Nobody's going to hold back until kids are 18 or 19 or even 17 to sign them. If you wait, someone else will sign them."
"If other organizations would wait until players are 17 before signing them, then we might do it, too," says Seattle assistant director of player development Steve Schryver.
Other baseball people don't buy these excuses. "I don't feel good about signing them too young," says Gomez. "They forget about their education, and if for some reason they don't make it, they can't get a decent job to make a good living. I tell them to do what kids do here: finish high school and sign at 18."
"Too many times young Latins come out with emotional problems," says Gil. "Kids who sign at, say, 16, and fail, sometimes never overcome that. No matter where they go, as students or workers, they never forget that they were failures at 16. I've seen kids who didn't make it in baseball become drug addicts. So many of them just don't know what to do when they get released.
"The government of Puerto Rico, through its Sports and Recreation Department, should begin to keep track of all the boys who sign and what happens to them. I'm not able to keep track of all the players who disappear after they're released. For example, I'm the president of the baseball federation, and I don't even know what's happened to Jorge Lebron."
Ah, yes—Jorge Lebron. A legend in the Puerto Rican baseball community—for all the wrong reasons.
Lebron, a shortstop, was billed as the youngest player in professional baseball history when at 14 he signed with the Phillies seven summers ago. Within weeks after he finished the eighth grade, he was ushered to Atlantic City to face his first press conference and meet his hero, Joe DiMaggio.