Although I come from a Spanish family, I didn't learn to speak Spanish until my first year in the Minor Leagues. When I got to rookie ball, I had three Dominican roommates, so I had to learn Spanish pretty quickly.
Much of my early knowledge came from picking up conversations between those roommates. Sometimes the Mexican guys will give me a hard time because they say I sound Dominican, but that's how I learned my Spanish.
Both my father and mother spoke Spanish, but they didn't use it on an everyday basis. They would speak Spanish around Christmastime when they were talking about the presents and stuff. They just didn't speak it around the house.
When I grew up, we lived in Texas, about six hours from the border, and with a last name like Gonzalez, lots of people assumed that I spoke Spanish. Some people would come up to me speaking Spanish and I couldn't do anything but sit there and shake my head.
A lot of the time, I will act as a translator for Jose Castillo, our second baseman, in interviews. Before I got to the Minors, that was something I thought I would never be able to do. I couldn't even say a sentence in Spanish when I was younger.
The biggest help in learning was listening to my three Dominican roommates during their conversations. They came from a place where only Spanish was spoken, so when they got here, all they spoke was Spanish. They would throw it at me day and night. I had the choice to stay in the dark or learn the language and get with the program.
There are definitely remarkable differences between the Spanish spoken between a lot of the Latin and Hispanic countries. The dialect is totally different. Each has its different slang.
The ability to speak Spanish while I was playing winter ball in Venezuela in 2003 came in very handy. That might have been the best time I had playing baseball. The Venezuelans have so much passion for the game. Very rarely did I hear them speak English there, so being able to communicate in Spanish made my time over there much more enjoyable.
Closer Mike Gonzalez was a perfect 24-for-24 in save opportunities for the Pirates this past season while compiling a 2.17 ERA over 24 games. The 28-year-old lefty entered the season with four career saves and a 2.48 ERA over 114 contests, all with Pittsburgh and all in relief.
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