SCOTTSDALE – It’s a cool November evening in this desert city. Bo Takahashi, a 21-year-old pitcher from Presidente Prudente, Brazil, warms up in the bullpen before taking the mound for the Salt River Rafters. He is preparing to play in what is, at that moment, the only Major League-affiliated baseball game in the world.
Takahashi, a third-generation Brazilian with roots in Japan, signed a minor league free agent contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013. He fires each pitch to Tres Barrera, a Texas-born catcher in the Washington Nationals organization, who fires back encouragement in Spanish.
Meanwhile, pitching coach Dave Burba, of Dayton, Ohio, and the Colorado Rockies organization, offers small tips to Takahashi in English to ensure his starting pitcher is ready to go.
It’s not your typical baseball scene. The baseball season is usually over in October. Arizona is supposed to be warm. And don’t Brazilians speak Portuguese?
But this is baseball, and in particular the Arizona Fall League. The sport has become increasingly bilingual in the past half century, with more than a quarter of major league players coming from Latin American countries.
And perhaps no person is more emblematic of the uniqueness of this setting and this sport than Takahashi. Through players like him, baseball clubhouses have become more diverse, transforming into multilingual hubs of community and culture and connecting players from different countries, dialects and upbringings.
“Bo has been a godsend for me for a lot of this (language) stuff,” said Shelley Duncan, Takahashi’s manager for parts of the last three seasons and the hitting coach for Salt River in the fall. “He’s been my dude when it comes to a lot of the communication with guys.”