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How CJ Abrams became fluent as a Spanish speaker

When the Washington Nationals infield met at the mound for a pitching change on Friday, most of the players gathered there grew up in Spanish-speaking countries. Mexico native Joey Meneses was playing first base. Second baseman Luis García was born in New York but spent most of his childhood in the Dominican Republic. César Hernández, third substitute, comes from Venezuela.

They all shared the same native language, with the exception of shortstop CJ Abrams, who hails from Georgia. Over the years, however, Abrams learned Spanish. So when he’s in the huddle, he listens and occasionally joins in with his teammates.

“I’m almost fluid, not perfect, but the rookie ball helped a lot with the Padres, teach, just talking with all my teammates,” Abrams said.

Abrams has already made himself comfortable with his teammates during his brief stay in Washington. He’s not a big talker, but he often laughs and converses with his Spanish-speaking teammates in the clubhouse.

“A lot of [my] his teammates only speak Spanish and they are learning English,” Abrams said. “We [should] also try to learn Spanish.

Before Abrams became a top prospect and then part of Washington’s rebuilding, he was a freshman at Blessed Trinity Catholic High in Roswell, Georgia, where he learned Spanish from Professor Jodi Gucer. . Gucer remembers his former student as a serious child, mature for his age, who learned the material easily. Abrams was silent. He didn’t bother to speak in class and didn’t ask many questions.

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Gucer said silent children are often overlooked, but are generally attentive, observant and absorb information. That’s what Abrams did. When Gucer called Abrams, he would know the answer.

“He was fearless,” Gucer said. “He wouldn’t hesitate. He would just answer. It wasn’t like he was getting nervous or anything. Very stealthy. Cool. Confident, but not arrogant.

Holly Jiménez had him in class for the next two years, and the two became close. Jiménez called Abrams humble and said he treated others with respect. She ran Division I track and later ran marathons. She joked that she and Abrams would sometimes argue at the end of class, in Spanish and English, about which sport is more difficult.

“Sometimes when he wanted to prove his point, especially in the first year, it was in English. He was good at Spanish, though,” Jiménez said. “And I remember thinking to myself, ‘Well, if you really want to do this and turn professional, you have to be careful because you’re going to have a lot of teammates that you can train with.’ ”

Jiménez said Abrams never expressed a desire to learn with an eye to the future, but was interested in a wide variety of subjects, including Spanish, business and math. He had a solid foundation, but Jiménez said that by the time he was a junior she noticed he increased his time practicing and speaking Spanish.

Jiménez said students are sometimes afraid to speak because they’re afraid of making mistakes, but Abrams was never shy and didn’t care that his grammar wasn’t perfect. It set him apart. After reaching the pros, Abrams would message Jiménez to tell him how much he enjoyed talking to his teammates – even though there was a learning curve.

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Abrams said he used what he learned in class when he turned professional, but noted: “School and the application [Spanish] is very different. In particular, conjugations and tenses were difficult. There are also variations of the language, depending on the country a person is from, so slang and dialect differences can be a hindrance.

He said his Spanish-speaking teammates make mistakes when speaking English, so he doesn’t feel embarrassed when he makes mistakes in Spanish. Most notably, he and García — the Nationals’ future in the middle of the infield — have become close. They joke around the clubhouse in both languages, and García said Abrams understands Spanish well.

“Yeah, it feels good,” García said. “We play in the middle of the infield. We always talk in the middle of the game, and I speak English and he speaks perfect English. But he will speak in Spanish and I speak perfect Spanish. We will talk about anything. . . we feel comfortable with.

In a way, Abrams is following in the footsteps of Brian Dozier, a member of Washington’s 2019 World Series team, who learned Spanish during his playing career. The Mississippi native said it helped him bond with his teammates.

Neither Gucer nor Jiménez would have predicted that Abrams would have continued with the Spanish; they often cannot guess it with the students they teach. But the two also said they weren’t surprised.

“I always say to my students, I ask them, ‘What’s the only thing that stands between you and being fluent in Spanish?’ And they say all kinds of things: that’s the motivation,” Gucer said. “CJ had to be motivated to learn it. Nobody can necessarily motivate you – I think it comes from within.