Dodgers Prospects: The Latin House in Rancho Cugamonga
This is next in a series of prospect reports I hope to do. The life of a minor leaguer and the daily grind is interesting. I hope to bring that part of baseball to you. Jerry Espinoza was gracious enough to grant some time for my questions a few days ago.
I was able to speak with Jerry Espinoza about the life of minor league baseball players in the California League, specifically members of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. Jerry and his wife, Melissa, live in a house that serves as a host home for most of the Latin players on the Quakes. The Latin House, as some call it, is owned by Don and Gretchen Higbee and they have been there in past seasons. They are traveling now and asked Jerry and Melissa to house sit for a few months, which overlapped the baseball season. The Espinozas did not have to host players but they decided to continue the practice.
Despite what many might think, most minor league players in Single A are not rich and make around $1300-$1600 per month. Yes, some have had some nice signing bonuses but that could be the only big money they get from baseball so they need to protect it. On the road players get $25 in meal money. Living in Southern California on that salary, before taxes, is not an easy task. I did a quick search for 2 bedroom apartments in Rancho Cucamonga and I found nothing under $1500.
The Latin House does not charge any rent. Food, bedding and other necessary housing items are either provided by the house or by the Quakes Boosters Club. The closest analogy might be a college dorm room for what is needed to live. There are mattresses provided and the players are all on the 2ndfloor, sharing 3 bedrooms. In 2018 there are plenty of players that have come and gone. The season started with 3 players, got down to 1 and has reached up to 6 players.
A lot of Latin players sign as teenagers, with many being 16 years old. Before they come to the California League they’ve been in the United States for 2-4 years. The Dodgers will usually start them off in their league in the Dominican Republic. They might go to the Arizona League after that. Then the progression is Ogden, Utah then Midlan, Michigan before landing in Rancho Cucamonga.
According to Jerry the players do a good job of self-organizing, specifically figuring out who stays in which room. With 6 players sharing 3 rooms it can be difficult. A leader will emerge from the group and is usually the best English speaker. They can pretty much come and go as they please and about half of them drive.
One adjustment for the guys is food. A story Jerry told was from the beginning of the season. Jerry found that the bread and sliced cheese was vanishing at a rapid rate. He found that the guys were toasting two slices of bread then putting a slice of cheese between them. Once the Espinozas figured out what they were doing they were able to teach them how to make grilled cheese. Then, they discovered that they can also put ham in their grilled cheese. Even as the season winds down the Espinozas keep a lot of bread and sliced cheese around. Like most 19-23 year olds, they love grilled cheese.
Just recently the guys came home with a bunch of groceries and did a BBQ for the Espinozas. The picture at the right from the BBQ has (from left to right) Carlos Rincon, Cristian Santana, Edwin Uceta (in the back), Hamlet Marté, Omar Estevez and Leo Crawford.
One of the challenges the Latin players face is the language barrier. 90% of players from Puerto Rico speak English. However, the players from most other Latin American countries do not speak English. As a side note, the Espinozas do not speak much Spanish. Before almost each home game there is a one hour English class. The players that take it seriously are able to make good progress. In the past there have been some that don’t take it seriously and show no improvement. Jerry uses the Google Translator application to help with communication but the guys in the house are all improving in their English speaking. In the video below you can see more about learning English.
Jerry is also a photographer who is has credentials with MiLB and is frequently at Quakes games but also attends plenty of other California League games. His work can be found at Clubhouse Corner, Instragram and his Twitter. At the ballpark I was able to see the interaction between the players and Jerry. They have tremendous love and respect for him and it shows.
Jerry has been building relationships with players before they even reach the California League. He does photo work at both Spring Training, rookie ball in Arizona (before they are sent out to one of the 5 minor league affiliates) and the fall Instructional League in Arizona. By the time the players reach the California League many players know him as he photographs them all and is there as a friend. Even after they pass through the Cal League he still has a lot of contact with many players.
When I asked Jerry about problems, he was very pleased with how well the players are continuing to adapt and how well they all work together in the house. This is a place where the doorbell rings and a player is there with a note. The player is then taken in and all the players figure out which room he lives in. They all watch out for each other. Sometimes, former players drop by just to say “hello”. Before his start on September 7, Dennis Santana dropped by the house.
Next year, things will be different but also very similar. The Latin House will have a lot of different players than this year and will find ways to adapt with the help of people like the Espinozas.
I want to thank Jerry Espinoza for his time on September 7, 2018, along with all my follow up questions via Twitter and email.
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