FORT WAYNE – Step on into a Spanish-speaking corner of the clubhouse at Parkview Field, and they might mess with you a little bit, if they know you don’t habla español.
Such was the case Monday talking to the Cabrera brothers – Erik and Felix – who were arriving at the park, getting their lockers situated and readying for today’s season opener with the TinCaps against Great Lakes.
There’s a huge guffaw when they are each asked how they are different from one another.
Oh, I’m looser than my brother, Erik says through a translator.
Then, there’s laughter all around.
It’s not true, I’m looser, says Felix, who speaks some English.
It sure seems as if Felix is the more lighthearted one – and maybe that’s the joke – but it’s clear the brothers are more similar than different.
They both grew up in Nizao, Dominican Republic, dreaming of playing in the major leagues as many players from the region, such as Vladimir Guerrero, have done.
They didn’t think it would be on the same team, though.
I think it’s just luck that it happened, says Erik, 22, who was signed by the San Diego Padres as a free agent in 2011, two years after they signed Felix, who is 13 months older.
Both were infielders as kids – Felix a third baseman and Erik a shortstop – until a coach forced Erik try his hand at pitching.
Yeah, he was upset, Felix says.
Felix played 18 games last season with Fort Wayne, hitting .209 with four runs, a home run and two stolen bases in only 43 at-bats. He’s made it as high as Triple-A Tucson (for two games), though he expects he’ll be in Fort Wayne for the duration of this summer.
Erik played five games last season with the TinCaps, going 2-2 with a 3.33 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 10 walks in 24 1/3 innings.
And when Erik pitches to Felix?
There will always be competition. That’s just how it is with brothers, Erik says.
They don’t live together in Fort Wayne. But, as Erik says, I’m happy to be with my brother, because it’s always nice to be with a family member.
Felix says they are similar people – except (Erik) doesn’t speak English and I speak a little bit – and that they’ve both worked hard on their games during the offseason.
They don’t look different to me, except you can tell they are both quiet, said TinCaps manager Jose Valentin, adding that he’s not surprised no one in the clubhouse could decide which Cabrera brother is looser.
When the Latinos get together, they get loud. And I’m part of it. I’m Latino, too. But they have to understand that there are American kids that want to be part of the same group, and sometimes you have to use words in English, Valentin said.
You want to make sure everybody is in the same group, because I don’t want two (cliques) on the team. Same thing with the Americans; they need to be speaking Spanish because we all play for the same team.
The Cabreras had almost similar outlooks on what they want to accomplish this season.
I’m focused in on having a good year and doing the best I can and helping the team win, Erik says, and there’s no laughter this time.