Nellie Rodriguez is the Mahoning Valley Scrappers everyday first baseman. But the New York native has a much greater role on the team. Rodriguez serves as the regular translator for his Latin teammates in interviews with the media and conversations with other players.
"I'm just helping them out and making sure they're paying attention," Rodriguez said. "They need to learn the language and have it with them throughout their careers."
Rodriguez, who just turned 19 on June 12, grew up in a Spanish-speaking household in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. He learned basic English in kindergarten and became more and more well-versed throughout middle school.
The Cleveland Indians 15th round draft pick out of George Washington High School now speaks the language fluently.
"My family is from the Dominican Republic and we get to visit a couple of times," Rodriguez said. "I was always around (Spanish speakers) growing up."
He remembers his childhood fondly, recalling long days of stickball, basketball and runs around the city.
"Everybody was always outside," Rodriguez said. "We played in the streets every chance we could get. I grew up in a Latin community and we were all very close with our neighbors. It was a real family atmosphere."
The 6-foot-2, 225 pounder knew he was destined for a career in baseball from the time he was 12 or 13. At 18, though, there were some brief doubts of his future.
Rodriguez started the 2013 season in Lake County. In 47 games, he batted just .194 with 53 strikeouts in 160 at bats. The demotion to Mahoning Valley was a wakeup call for Rodriguez. And though he struggled in the first week of the New York-Penn League season, he is getting back on track.
"It's the same thing, really," Rodriguez said. "I had a rough time up there and they brought me down to get my confidence back up. I need to forget about the past and focus on the present and good things will come."
Though the Scrappers (7-18) have lost 10 of their last 11 games, Rodriguez collected 14 hits over that span. On July 6 in a 6-2 loss to Williamsport, he went 4 for 4. His hot bat has earned him the Tribune Chronicle's Scrapper of the Week honor.
"I've been feeling great," Rodriguez said. "I've really been trying to focus on my plan and approach. It's been a pretty good week and I'm just trying to get the bat on the ball.
"So far I'm proud of what I'm doing. I'm working hard and never slacking off because I want to get where I dream to be."
And that's the major leagues. Though he grew up a New York Yankees fan who idolized Albert Pujols, Rodriguez sees himself playing at Progressive Field wearing the red and white.
"It's my dream," he said.
No barrier, language or otherwise, will derail those intentions.