What has the sitcom done for his English proficiency?
“It’s near perfect,” said Flores’s teammate, Jerry Blevins, who is from Tennessee. “When he doesn’t know something, it’s surprising.”
Flores, Peralta and Galvis built a rudimentary command of English in school in Venezuela. “But I always got bad grades because I didn’t like that way of learning,” Galvis said.
Gonzalez, who was surrounded by Spanish, his first language, at home, also had English classes in school when he moved to Southern California. Some players also received English instruction after signing with a team.
But these players said that they learned more when they arrived in the United States and fully plunged into English. In terms of immersion, few things compare to landing in a small minor-league town with few Spanish speakers — and needing to order food.
Popular culture, especially “Friends,” was education through entertainment.
“The basics you can learn in a classroom,” said Flores, who was interviewed in Spanish, along with most of the players, for ease. “But to speak the language, that comes from here in the clubhouse, on the street or from television.”
Flores said he cannot remember exactly when he first watched “Friends,” but it was sometime early in his minor league career in the United States, perhaps when he was in Class A as a teenager and far from home. Although he said he understood enough English then, he was too unsure to respond in conversation. As he grew more comfortable, he soaked up words from teammates and bought the DVD’s for all 10 seasons of “Friends,” which ran from 1994 to 2004, so he could watch it again at home in the off-season.
Now he is surely baseball’s biggest “Friends” fanatic. He has visited the studio in Burbank, Calif. where the show was filmed , and has chosen the show’s theme song to be played on the stadium public-address system when it’s his turn to bat during home games.