Language of baseball bonds Clark teammates

Players break down cultural barriers to become friends

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer



The carpool from Clark College to their homes off Oregon’s Highway 26 tells only part of the friendship between Reinaldo Gonzalez and Charles Clark Jr., two freshmen on Penguins baseball team.

Language bonds these two players together on what coach Mark Magdaleno describes as the most ethnically diverse team in the Northwest Athletic Conference.

Gonzalez is one of eight Latinos. Clark Jr. is African-American.

Their spoken common language is Spanish. It’s Gonzalez’s native language; he moved to the United States from Venezuela two years ago.

For Clark Jr., it’s his second. He took four years of Spanish at Hillsboro’s Liberty High.

What began as an interpreter-teammate relationship with Clark Jr. and Gonzalez has grown to be like family, the two say.

“I’d do anything for him,” said Clark Jr., an outfielder. “Being of an ethnic background, I know how it feels to be uncomfortable at times. I can only imagine how he feels when he doesn’t understand the language sometimes.”

Comfort is why Clark Jr., reached out to Gonzalez over the summer when he learned about the hot-shot shortstop from Beaverton’s Westview High joining the Penguins. The two live 10 minutes apart, and Clark Jr. offered his assistance to a player still grasping the English language.

In his words, Clark Jr. paid attention all four years of high-school Spanish classes.

“My parents pushed me that being bilingual was an important thing,” he said.

And now, he’s seeing that benefit at 19 years old.

“Once I started to communicate on a day-to-day basis, it became an importance,” he said. “If (Gonzalez) doesn’t understand me and I don’t understand him, it can be a misplay out here on the field.”

As Gonzalez’s English continues to grow, so did Clark, Jr.’s Spanish to the level of fluency, he said.

What also has grown is their friendship, Gonzalez added.

“He’s one of the closest people I know on the team,” Gonzalez said in Spanish, interpreted through Clark Jr. “I love spending time with him.”

It’s an added comfort level that might not otherwise be there had Clark Jr. not offered a helping hand.

The Northwest is still new territory for Gonzalez. Political problems made Venezuela not a favorable place for Gonzalez and his family. Two years ago, they relocated to the region, and baseball helped ease Gonzalez’s transition in the United States. An all-league shortstop, he helped Westview reach the OSAA Class 6A state semifinals last spring.

Gonzalez said he enjoys Clark as he transitions to NWAC baseball — “I like it here,” he said in English. The Vancouver/Portland area is a far different place from his hometown of Maracaibo, Venezuela, where baseball is a way of life.

“That’s the way out of poverty and violence — to live your dream and have a good life,” Gonzalez said through Clark Jr.

For the Penguins (12-4 overall), they’ve won eight of their past 10 games and sit at 3-1 in the NWAC South going into this weekend’s home-and-home series with Linn-Benton.

Gonzalez has heated up after a slow start, hitting .250. His 10 stolen bases are second-best on the team.

Clark, Jr., has appeared in seven games in center field.

Magdaleno, in his first full season after being promoted to head coach midway through 2016, says the two do a great deal for one another, just like the roster’s other 33 do for each other.

“We’re a family,” he said.