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Ben Smith

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Baseball plays role as common language

So here comes summer now, and it’s speaking in tongues. There is liquid Spanish, and every flavor of English under the sun. Over here, a little no-worries Australian. Over there, a Tennessee drawl fit for a porch swing. And right here, shirtless and inked up with some truly breathtaking body art …

Five flavors in one, ladies and gents.

“So you speak, like, three languages, right?” a visitor asks 19-year-old catcher Rodney Daal from Amsterdam, Netherlands.

“Five,” he replies. “Four fluent, and the fifth is … all right.”

Then he ticks them off: “Dutch, English, Papiamento (a Caribbean dialect spoken in the Netherlands Antilles) and Spanish. German is the fifth.”

Outside this day, there is counterfeit sunshine and a bandsaw wind, as spring continues to drag its heels. In the parking lot across the street, foothills of black snow squat like slag heaps. The mercury struggles to clear 40 degrees. When they roll up the tarp in Parkview Field on Monday morning, a thin film of ice slides off and rings the pale green grass like chill lace.

And yet … here comes summer anyway, or at least its faithful outrider. They might come from every corner of the world, these new TinCaps – Canada and Australia and the Netherlands and South America; New York and Florida and Texas and California – but the common language is the same: baseball

In the clubhouse, one of the players grabs a bat and swings it with a muffled whuff. In the coaches’ office, the TV is tuned to the Yankees and Red Sox. In the manager’s office, Jose Valentin looks longingly as his lunch, then tells a TV reporter that this team has loads of potential again this year.

And as every group of new TinCaps does on this day each year, the players look around at their new digs and pronounce themselves satisfied.

“It’s gorgeous,” says blue-chip pitching prospect Max Fried, who hails from Van Nuys, Calif.

“Best fans I’ve played in front of in minor league baseball,” says Corey Adamson, outfielder, Perth, Australia.

Then there’s this from infielder Maxx Tissenbaum, who spent his offseason working a 9-to-5 desk job in his hometown of Toronto and who was college teammates with 2012 TinCap Travis Jankowski.

“The first day he got out here, I was still in Arizona,” says Tissenbaum, already traipsing around in his No. 8 TinCaps jersey. “And his first text to me was ‘Dude, you’ve got to get here in a hurry, this place is awesome.’ And to finally see it, I think that might have even been an understatement. Because this is absolutely incredible.”

Across the room, Adamson concurs, saying he has been telling everyone how great the facility and the fan base were. If summer has a living embodiment this day, he’s it; when you mention how different it must be to come to spring training straight out of the Aussie summer, he points out that he hasn’t had an actual winter “in about five years.”

As opposed to the natives here, for whom this winter in particular seems to have lasted about five years.

“The good thing about that is, I get to go back to Australia when it’s our baseball on-season, and play another summer of baseball,” Adamson goes on. “It’s just a constant flow of baseball for me.”

A constant flow of baseball.

Sigh.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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