Gonzalez stays close to Cuban roots;He sees being bilingual as an advantage.;’It’s big in life to

According to cubanball.com, there have been seven Cuban-born
managers throughout the long history of major league baseball. The
Braves now employ two of them.

Fredi Gonzalez, of course, was hired last week to take over for
the retiring Bobby Cox. He will bring with him as bench coach
Carlos Tosca, who managed Gonzalez in the minors before a brief
stint (2002-04) leading the Toronto Blue Jays.

Rather than consider his background as any sort of hindrance to
climbing baseball’s corporate ladder, Gonzalez seized on it as an
advantage. For it gives him a tool that not even one of his mentors
— Cox — possessed: The ability to habla espanol.

“I never really thought about that,” Gonzalez said when asked if
he thought he had to overcome any prejudice on his journey through
the ranks. In fact, his ascension was rapid. At 34, he was the
youngest manager in the Triple-A International League, at
Charlotte. And “by 35, I already was a third-base coach in the
majors [Florida].”

“Being born in Cuba and having the ability to speak Spanish I
think has really helped me. You can communicate with players
through an interpreter, but sometimes the message doesn’t really
get across. It helps to be able to speak directly with [the Latin]
players.”

Being bilingual, and holding on to the heritage left behind in
Cuba when his parents brought him to the United States as a small
child, are priorities to Gonzalez. He tries to impress that upon
his two children, who are another generation into the
Americanization process.

When his daughter, Gabrielle, came home from Georgia Southern to
celebrate her father’s new job with the
Braves, Gonzalez took that
opportunity to review her course load. He noticed she had no
languages included. He gently reminded her of the plan for her to
minor in Spanish.

Older sis is more fluent in Spanish than 17-year-old Alex. “I’ll
force him to take it in college,” his dad said.

“It’s big in life to be able to speak Spanish or any second
language,” he said.

In 1966, Gonzalez’s parents flew to the United States aboard one
of the many “Freedom Flights” from Cuba. Ten years later, as part
of a huge Bicentennial ceremony at the Orange Bowl, they became
U.S. citizens, which conferred citizenship upon their children.
They blended into the American culture, but Spanish remained
dominant in their home.

And baseball was big there, too. It was, and remains, an
important part of the culture.

And the other five Cuban-born managers through major league
history?

Mike Gonzalez (1938, 1940 St. Louis), Preston Gomez (1969-72 San
Diego, 1974-75 Houston, 1980 Cubs), former
Braves infielder Marty Martinez
(1986 Seattle), Cookie Rojas (1988 Angels, 1996 Miami) and Tony
Perez (1993 Cincinnati, 2001 Florida).