“He makes the effort, and he values the guys who don’t speak English, which is important in this game,” said Carlos Beltran, the Astros’ designated hitter, who is from Puerto Rico.
“When I see an American player really making the effort with the Latinos, it’s something really special,” added Beltran, 40, who was shy as a teenage prospect because he did not understand English but over the years has become confident in publicly addressing issues. He was one of the players most instrumental in getting Major League Baseball to require that every team have Spanish-English translators.
More than a quarter of major league players are Latino, and most were born overseas. After arriving in the United States, those players are expected to learn English, and they often take language classes in baseball academies and in the minor leagues.
In contrast, American-born players without any Latino background do not receive similar instruction in Spanish, even though it is the first language of numerous teammates. Instead, they usually learn bits of Spanish from playing alongside Latinos in both the minor and major leagues.
What frequently happens as a result is that the foreign-born Latino players, especially those whose English is limited, end up spending most of their time in and away from the clubhouse with their fellow Spanish-speaking teammates. It becomes a question of comfort and familiarity.
But in the tight-knit Astros clubhouse, the high-energy, Spanish-speaking Bregman bounces around everywhere.
“He hangs with the American players, the Latinos, everyone,” Correa said. “He’s a great teammate.”
On Monday, the day before Game 1 of the World Series, the Astros infielders finished fielding drills and headed to the batting cage together. Altuve, Correa, Gurriel, Bregman and the utility player Marwin Gonzalez, who is from Venezuela, walked as a group and laughed — with Gonzalez’s arm over Bregman’s shoulder.
“The infielders are pretty much all Latinos, and he’s always with us,” Gurriel said.
Growing up in New Mexico and in a baseball family, Bregman was perhaps destined for this. His father, Sam, who is a lawyer, and an uncle played baseball at the University of New Mexico. His grandfather Stan was the general counsel for the second version of the Washington Senators, and helped negotiate the team’s sale.
Starting at age 5, Alex Bregman said, he took Spanish classes in school. And when he played on developmental rosters for Team U.S.A., he said, he spent time playing in Colombia, Mexico and Cuba. That helped with his Spanish, too.
Bregman was selected by the Astros with the second overall pick in 2015, and within a year, he was in the major leagues because of his strong fielding and hitting ability. Meanwhile, Bregman said, his Spanish skills continued to improve because he had so many Latino teammates once he turned professional.
“I’m basically almost fluent now,” he said, perhaps overstating his proficiency. “I understand it all and speak probably 90 percent of it. You can ask them, but they’ll tell you I’m fluent.”
His teammates’ verdict?
“He speaks it pretty well, at least better than you think,” said Altuve, who speaks English well, just like Correa and Gonzalez. “When I first met him, he didn’t speak much. But he’s learning more every day, so be careful what you say in front of him.”
Francisco Liriano, a veteran Astros pitcher who is from the Dominican Republic, grinned when asked about Bregman’s Spanish. “He sounds like an American, but he knows a good amount,” he said.
Beltran lauded Bregman’s confidence and desire to learn a new language, a trait Beltran said would help Bregman not only with Spanish but throughout his career on the baseball field.
“The most important thing is that he tries,” said Beltran, who spoke in Spanish for this article, as did the other Latino players who were interviewed. “He’s not afraid to express himself. He makes me laugh a few times because it’s funny the words he uses, good and bad words. Words you hear and you think, ‘Oh, wow, how cool that he knows this word.’ ”
Bregman is so enthusiastic about his language endeavor that he has done brief interviews in Spanish with Francisco Romero, a Spanish-language radio broadcaster for Astros games.
In an interview two weeks ago with Romero during the postseason, Bregman called a home run against the Boston Red Sox “a dream for me and my family” in Spanish, then mixed in some English when he could not remember how to say “a blessing.” The sentences were not complete and there were a few mistakes, but he tried and he smiled.
Earlier in the season, Romero recorded Bregman singing along in Spanish to “Ginza,” a popular reggaeton song by the Colombian artist J. Balvin. Because Altuve is well known in the Astros’ clubhouse for singing along to songs, Bregman wanted to do it, too.
Hanging out with his Latino teammates, Bregman said, has given him an appreciation for reggaeton (“we all listen to it in the clubhouse all the time”) and carne asada, a staple of Latin American cuisines.
In many clubhouses, Bregman said, different groups of players may not fraternize so much. But with the Astros, he said everyone does, thanks to players such as Beltran, Correa and Liriano. “Everybody hangs out with everybody,” he said. And Bregman, who keeps working on his Spanish skills, hopes to keep that camaraderie going.