Taguchi hopes to learn Cubs' language
Outfielder trying to make team, understands Fukudome's situation
MESA, Ariz. -- When So Taguchi first came to the U.S. in 2002 to play for the St. Louis Cardinals, he couldn't speak any English. Fast forward to 2006, when Taguchi homered off Billy Wagner in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. He was taken to the interview room and handled all the questions himself without an interpreter.
"I learned English by myself," Taguchi said.
The outfielder, a non-roster invitee in the Cubs' camp this spring, made an effort because he felt it would make the transition easier. His teammates didn't help much by teaching him a few obscenities.
"I learned the bad words first because they are easier," Taguchi said, laughing.
"My first year in the Minor Leagues and first two months, I had an interpreter," said Taguchi, 39, who played for Orix in Japan from 1992-2001 before he signed with St. Louis. "The team asked if I needed an interpreter, but my thinking was I was in the Minor Leagues and didn't need one."
He played at the Double-A and Triple-A level in '02 for the Cardinals, appearing in 19 games with the Major League team. Being in the Minors gave him time to work on the language. He read books, but the biggest help was watching kids movies. A favorite? "Finding Nemo."
"There were some guys who played in Japan who were on the Memphis team and knew Japanese English," Taguchi said. "They helped, too."
Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome had an interpreter last season, his first in the Major Leagues, and was not too comfortable speaking English. How much did being able to converse, even if just a little, help Taguchi's transition?
"It was a big help [to know English]," he said. "If we can try to speak English, they understand our situation and how hard it is. I think every player should learn. To me, it's part of having the right attitude."
Fukudome will not join the Cubs until Team Japan is finished playing in the World Baseball Classic. Taguchi did not play with Fukudome, but does know him. Last season, Taguchi was with the Philadelphia Phillies, and he and Fukudome talked about baseball, getting adjusted.
"Last year was his first year, so he probably wasn't comfortable," Taguchi said. "I think it gets easier [each year], but it's still tough."
Taguchi is hoping to catch on with the Cubs as an extra outfielder, and got his first start Friday against Texas in right field. He went 0-for-3. His locker is located near Japanese pitcher Ken Kadokura, who speaks no English, as well as some of the Latin players like Carlos Marmol. How is his Spanish?
"My Spanish is un poquito," Taguchi said.
That means just a little.
"I like to hear Spanish," Taguchi said. "I want to learn. I want to speak English, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese."
There is still one language barrier he's having. When Taguchi talks to people on the phone and they are speaking English, it's tough for him to follow.
"They talk too fast," he said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.