BY GERRY CHIDIAC
Lessons in Learning
The Toronto Blue Jays are often referred to as Canada’s team because they’re the only Major League Baseball organization in the country. This season they’re playing the most exciting baseball we’ve seen in years, and even though their ranks don’t include many Canadian players, they certainly look a lot like Canada.
There are as many languages spoken in the Blue Jays dugout as there are in Toronto’s famous Kensington Market. While such differences can result in communication barriers and misunderstandings, here they’re celebrated. Nothing makes this statement clearer than the team’s home run blazer.
Other teams have had ways to celebrate when a teammate hits a home run but this is unique. The Blue Jay home run jacket has the name of every country represented in the Blue Jays dugout written on it, along with the words, “La gente del barrio,” the people of the neighbourhood in Spanish.
While the Blue Jays may or may not make it to the post-season this year, one thing is certain: This is a fun team to watch. The players clearly love the game of baseball and appreciate how fortunate they are to make a living doing something they enjoy.
They also hit a lot of home runs, and the jacket brings everyone together whenever anyone is successful. It’s even placed over the shoulders of pitchers when they have a great game.
The home run jacket also says a great deal about how baseball has changed and perhaps even something about Canada in the 21st century.
Baseball used to be known as America’s pastime. While the majority of players in Major League Baseball are still from the United States, over one-quarter are Latin American. This statistic becomes even more striking if we look at the numbers of players in the big leagues relative to the populations of their countries. There are only three American players per million people in their population and 0.5 Canadians per million, but there are 13 Dominicans and 10 Puerto Ricans.
As is the case with Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, it’s hugely advantageous for Major League coaches to be bilingual. English may be the official language of baseball, but if one wants to communicate well with many of “la gente del barrio,” it’s useful to know Spanish.
Canada isn’t a lot different from Major League Baseball. English and French may be the official languages of the country, but Canadians come from all over the world and we’re seeing a resurgence of Indigenous languages. According to the 2016 census, more than one language is spoken in nearly 20 per cent of Canadian homes. This statistic is trending upward, with the number of people reporting an immigrant mother tongue increasing by over 13 per cent between the 2011 and 2016.
While some may feel that English Canadian culture is being threatened by multilingualism, the truth is that in most of the world it’s very unusual for individuals, especially those who consider themselves educated, to speak only one language.
Even those players in the Blue Jays dugout using translators know at least some English. They likely just want to make sure they understand the intricacies of what’s being asked of them and also don’t want to say the wrong thing to reporters.
Baseball and other sports, just like Canada, have a way of bringing diverse groups of people together. Every language that’s spoken is a celebration of this diversity. Maybe it’s finally time for the anglophones of the world to join in the fun of multilingualism with the rest of “la gente del barrio” who share this world with us.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students. Check out his website here. Find him on Facebook. Or on Twitter @GerryChidiac
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