Teaching What You Thought You Knew (Part 4): El beísbol

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Teaching what you thought you knew

One of my not-so-secret guilty pleasures is baseball. Growing up in a family of baseball enthusiasts and long-suffering Red Sox fans, listening to baseball games was something that put me to sleep, and going to games was something to pass the time and endure and then tell folks about. Later in life, once I had kids who also became rabid Red Sox fans, I learned to appreciate the game and relish the drama and dollar dog nights (see: kids who became fans). Those radio broadcasts have kept me company on many a cross country drive. I now have an iPad and one of the first apps I loaded was MLB.tv (for software testing purposes, ahem) so I hardly ever have to miss a game.

As mentioned in previous posts, I have tried to find authentic opportunities for my students to use the Spanish language in a real-life context. Our theme became Colombia and my quest this semester was to see how many different vantage points I could provide the class about the place in order to acknowledge all that we ( myself included) didn’t know about the country …..with the hopes of learning more.

In February of 2011, the Cleveland Indians (our local MLB team) acquired Orlando Cabrera. Not only was Orlando a two time winner of the Gold Glove and a member of the 2004 Red Sox, but Orlando is one of only three Colombians currently playing professional baseball in the United States….and now he was right down the street.

The wheels began to turn. Could it happen? Would it be possible for my class to meet him? And if we did, would they be as excited about this meet up as I would be? And if it were to happen, dear god, would I even be able to contain myself?


Professional baseball organizations need and want to connect with their fans and the communities where they play. Each team has one if not many people who work in community outreach, and their job is to make those connections. But what about getting a player to come to your school, or meet with your students? Can it happen and if so how? Is there a fee? And if there is a fee…is it outrageous? The trick, I learned, is to be persistent, to keep sending emails to info@(insert name of ball club).com and to call what ever numbers they might have on their website.

I began this quest in April, thinking nothing would come of it. Turns out I was wrong. Turns out Orlando Cabrera (OCab) is one of the more approachable baseball players out there. Turns out he was getting lots of good press for being a dynamic and positive force on the Indians roster. Turns out with age (he is in his mid 30s) comes compassion and generosity of spirit… he was willing to make it happen. And as luck would have it, it turns out the Indians Front Office had never been asked by a language teacher whether her students could speak with a player in his language.

The meeting happened. Originally we had planned for OCab to come to us, but it got switched to us coming to him. Menos mal, as they used to ( and maybe still do) say in Colombia, because by going in to Progressive Field we were able to meet with him in one of the pressrooms which are located under the field near the locker rooms. There is an entire other universe underneath the ballpark…and we got to see it.

What is more, by going to the park, we had the added opportunity of meeting Orlando’s wife Katie, who joined us during the interview. When learning we were going to speak with him in Spanish her response was “oh well good luck, not even I can understand him when he talks in Spanish.”

I love a challenge, don’t you?

Not all of my students could attend, given that it was the last week of classes and he could meet with us only from 2-3 p.m. on a Wednesday But for those who came…it was an exciting, and memorable, experience as chronicled in the posts to their class blogs. The students had learned from their previous conversations, both in person and via Skype, with Don Orlando Tobón, Paola Mendoza, and the people at Shakira’s Barefoot Foundation. They came up with 4 categories of questions, a series of questions within those categories that they could ask, and an order in which they would be asked. They created follow up questions, each of which based upon an anticipated response. They looked up baseball terms, many of which we found here .

Our last class of the semester, which was two days later, was filled with amusing anecdotes in Spanish as told by those who participated in the event to those who could not be there. In my mind, a much better use of our class time than our usual pot luck and class evaluations…. 🙂


Photo Credit: Dan Mendlik, Cleveland Indians

While watching the game the evening after our interview, I happened to catch a mention of our visit on the SportsTime Ohio play by play of the game.

So, you might wonder…did I contain myself as I worried I might not? Yes, surprisingly, I did, although after the talk when I handed Orlando a baseball that had been signed by Johnny Damon when he was on the Red Sox, and asked Orlando if he would sign it too… my students said I did jump and squeal when Orlando told me Damon was right outside …as the Indians were playing the Tampa Bay Rays that very evening…oh the emotion.

And as much as I was hoping to repeat this event this semester with the new HISP 205 students, Cabrera was traded to the SF Giants in August 2011. The Indians just acquired a center fielder named Fukudome, so perhaps my new baseball contacts will benefit the Japanese language faculty during the 2011 post season.

Series NavigationTeaching What You Thought You Knew (Part 3): Colombian Music, or how I learned to appreciate Hip Hop after 40 >>

Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!


  1. Sra. Hitz · August 22, 2011 Reply

    ¡Qué increíble! What an inspiration this post was to me! It must have been absolutely remarkable for you and your students to have this opportunity. This is a perfect example to show that you never know what the answer will be until you ask. I applaud your efforts and your success.

    • Barbara · August 23, 2011 Reply

      Thanks for commenting. Indeed, I had no idea how this one would play out and I am glad a persevered. It also served as a great example to my students who were frustrated because they couldn’t seem to get Skype partners… patience and perseverance seemed to be the key…

      Please come back and comment soon!


  2. El Proyecto Personal: Creating Conversations, Taking Risks, Learning to Prepare for the World Outside the Classroom | Language Lab Unleashed · July 7, 2015 Reply

    […] Readers of LLU know that I am (some would say) a misguided Red Sox fan, but that this passion for baseball allowed me to open some doors for my students with the Cleveland Indians Front Office several years back. […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: