Elvis Andrus is not the most popular Ranger these days, but his sentiment surely is.
“This is the land of opportunity,” Andrus said. “America gave me everything. It gave me a future. People want to come to places to get better, and America did that for me.”
The native of Venezuela said this in fluent English.
Whether you are left or right, blue or red, this is what Americans want to hear from immigrants: We want gratitude and we want effort to make this country a better place to live.
We want them to sound like Elvis Andrus. Adrian Beltre. Rougned Odor. Shin-Soo Choo. And countless other big league ballplayers, NHL and NBA guys, too.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, but there must be genuine effort outside of the field of play, too.
What we do not want are people to come here to make our money and use our social services and not be grateful or too bothered to even learn the language. It is one thing to assist but quite another to expect Americans to adapt to a foreigner, when it should be vice versa.
Most ballplayers are not paying any attention to this insane political season. As pro athletes, they are not going to be affected by any change to immigration policies.
If a guy can play — anything — he’s getting in. Their friends who are not so good at sports may not.
About 150 miles south of this Mecca of spring training is the single most volatile issue between Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump and likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton: the U.S-Mexico border.
Trump pledges to build a wall and evict millions. Despite his antagonistic and bombastic rhetoric, millions of Americans support Trump’s position on the issue of immigration. They want a wall, and they want ’em out.
Americans such as Trump are sick of people illegally coming into this country or not holding up their end of being an American.
“Until anything changes, I don’t want to speak about that,” Andrus said. “Right now, we have rules and you have to follow those rules.”
Guys such as Andrus, Martin Perez, Beltre and so many others, famous and obscure, represent what Americans want from immigration. Not only are they the best at what they do, they also have tried to adapt to the society that provided them this chance.
This starts simply by speaking English.
Nearly every team at every level makes English classes available to players, although they’re not mandatory.
“My first two or three years in the minor leagues, I always told my teammates to speak to me in English and to correct me,” Andrus said. “Learning is a personal choice. Some guys, it gets easier for them, but for some it’s tougher.”
Odor said he would rather speak in English simply for the practice. He conducts his interviews in English and does his best.
Some ballplayers and some immigrants don’t even bother, and that is the bother. Former Ranger and 2004 American League MVP Vladimir Guerrero was renowned for refusing to conduct interviews in English more than a decade into his career. He always had a translator.
The same for Japanese outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, although his teammates said he knew English. He just used it as a crutch to avoid the media.
“It’s just easier if you learn it,” Odor said.
Baseball clubhouses often function like a microcosm of America — it is a melting pot. You have your standard white dudes, a few African-Americans, some from Asia and an increasing number from Venezuela and the Caribbean.
The common language, of course, is the game of baseball. But even that, eventually, has limitations.
“If you wanted to live in my country I’d expect you to be able to speak Spanish,” Andrus said.
Most Americans forget we are a nation immigrants, a great many of whom were “illegals.” The inclusion and acceptance of countless cultures and faiths are part of what makes us a great nation.
But we do have a few common threads beyond the almighty U.S. dollar. One is the desire to make our home a great place to live, which begins by adapting to some of our fundamental characteristics.
One of them is the English language.
We don’t expect any of it to be perfect, but we do expect effort.
Perhaps if every immigrant embraced the beliefs and practices of Elvis Andrus and so many other ballplayers, there would be no need for a wall.
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.