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September 15, 2010

Minor Issues

Pitching in Spanish, with Mark Brewer

by David Laurila

For Mark Brewer, it’s all about comunicación and comprensión. Currently the pitching coach for the Double-A Binghamton Mets, the 51-year-old Brewer previously served as the Mets Latin American pitching coordinator. The son of former big league reliever Jim Brewer, he has also worked for the Dodgers, Rangers, Royals and Pirates.

David Laurila: What quality do all good pitching coaches share?

Mark Brewer: The good ones usually have tremendous patience and an understanding of every walk of mankind, of every kid they come across from all of the countries that we have in today’s game. You need good communication skills and an understanding of their cultures -- where they came from and what they had to do to survive -- especially the ones who come from third-world countries.

DL; Where did you gain most of that knowledge?

MB: I gained all of my experience from working in Latin America. I’m getting ready to start my tenth year in a row and my twelfth year overall [in winter ball]. Back in 1995, when I was with the Dodgers, Dave Wallace sent me to Mexico to work with the Hermosillo club, in Hermosillo, Mexico. I was there for one reason, and that was to make sure that Antonio Osuna didn’t get abused by pitching too much.

DL: Were you sent to Mexico because of your language skills?

MB: Not at that point, no. At that point [Wallace] just knew that I was anxious to do whatever I could to make a few extra bucks, and he trusted me. He knew that I’d communicate with him, from Mexico to the States, and that’s exactly what happened. As time went on, I started to understand the Spanish language, but at the time I went to Mexico I hardly knew any.

DL: I assume there are a number of minor-league pitching coaches who speak little or no Spanish.

MB: Absolutely; they expect the pitcher, or whoever it is, to learn [English] and have a feel for the sounds of the language. But you have to understand them; you have to understand their slang and the level of education that they’ve had.

If you’ve never been to the Dominican Republic, or any of the Latin-American countries that are close to being third world -- or even are third world -- then you, as an American, can’t understand what they go through and what they’ve had to go through to get to this point. That’s what I believe.

DL: Do you deal with Latin-American pitchers any differently than you do American-born pitchers?

MB: Well, you have to understand each and every individual’s makeup -- what makes them tick -- whether it’s a Latin kid or an American kid. So the answer to your question is yes. You often have to, because they’re thrust into a situation that they’ve always dreamed of being in, and sometimes they don’t know how to handle it. As an organization -- the New York Mets -- we’re trying to alleviate the pressure of a kid coming over here by giving them classroom attention in our academy.

DL: Do organizations maybe go too far with “Americanization,” suppressing much of the flair you see in Latin-American baseball?

MB: Well, there are things that you can do in winter ball that you can’t do in baseball here. There is an unwritten rule of the way you act, and they are taught not to do the things they‘re not supposed to do in the game here. That probably takes away from them a little bit, but that’s the game of baseball. Everybody has to…if I take a job in an office, I can’t walk in there and act the way I do with my kids and family, or the way I do when I’m out with my friends.

DL: Do you get more respect from the Latin-American players because you speak their language?

MB: I would say that it helps me out quite a bit from the standpoint of being able to get along with every one of them. Like I said, it’s all about understanding each and every individual and trying to get the maximum out of them. And if you don’t know the language, and you don’t have a feel for every walk of mankind, then you’re hindering your chances of developing these guys the way they should be developed.

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