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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Roemer

Unfamiliar Territory

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

A large pile of crimson and orange leaves began to separate, as gusts of wind took pieces of the stack in various directions throughout the street. In the distance, residents can see the sun begin to set over Casco Bay, turning the color of the sky to match the leaves still left clinging onto almost bare branches.

When I walk outside, I enjoy feeling a faint breeze brush against my cheeks and the fact that it's chilly enough to comfortably rest my hands in my jacket pockets. As someone who grew up in the south, witnessing leaves change color and having the need to wear jeans as early as September will never not be exciting.

Roughly a year ago, I packed my car to the brim and made my way to Portland - a city approximately 1,867 miles from where I grew up in Texas. Moving to an unfamiliar city was equally as scary as it was exciting. Over these past 12 months I braved a few snowstorms, played tourist in various parts of New England, and managed to control my craving for Whataburger.

I know changing locations for a job is not anything out of the ordinary, but sometimes it makes me think about the players who come from different countries for a chance to further their baseball career. Occasionally, I’ll get overwhelmed with sadness being so far from family and friends, but try to stop myself after thinking about how they must feel; as it seems harder to fully emerge into a completely different culture.

To gain more insight about the adjustment to playing baseball in the United States, I spoke with Deanna MacNaughton, a central New Hampshire native who served as an independent contractor for the Boston Red Sox as an english teacher for the Salem Red Sox from the spring of 2016 until March of 2023.

Deanna made her way to Southwest Virginia to attend Roanoke College. There, she majored in Spanish and minored in elementary education.

“I started learning Spanish in the fifth grade and decided to pursue it through high school and college because I thought it was really useful,” MacNaughton said. “Plus I loved the way it sounded with the rules and patterns of the language.”

The opportunity to teach English to the players occurred as she was graduating from college in the Spring of 2016. After going through the interview process, Deanna was hired a week later and began with a class of five students. In that class, MacNaughton would teach soon-to-be Boston fan favorite, Rafael Devers.

Rafael Devers in 2016

Class is in Session

Before starting the season, players will spend time in Fort Myers, Florida for spring training. There, the Spanish speakers take level placement classes and review what they learned in English class the previous season.

“They go over basics such as the alphabet and phrases that help them navigate through places like the airport,” MacNaughton said. “But it helped me as a teacher know what level each player is on so I can plan my classes.”

Once the players are assigned to Salem’s roster, they would be placed in Deanna’s class to further their schooling. Class was held only throughout the week when the team was home on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. This came out to roughly eight hours per month that the players were required to sit in a classroom.

English Class of 2022

While Deanna started out with just five players the first year, her curriculum evolved as she had to adjust to teaching class sizes of roughly 20-plus players as time went on.

Subjects studied throughout the season included; travel, directions, weather, cultural differences and anatomy. Some lessons covered how to book their own travel and explain an injury to an athletic trainer.

To make class more entertaining, Deanna would take the players on field trips to help them gather more of a hands-on feel to what they were learning. Some examples consist of going on a scavenger hunt around a local supermarket to find products and learn about the different sections of the store, and having a Christmas party to learn how the holiday is traditionally celebrated in the states.

2022 Christmas in July Party!

“I always plan out my classes to teach around a life-based curriculum,” MacNaughton said. “This way they can apply what they learn to their everyday life and get around on their own.”

The time and practice it takes to learn a new language varies with each individual as some of the players come to Deanna after being removed from a classroom for an extended period of time. Factors that can affect a player's level of education can potentially depend on how old they are when they are drafted, and socioeconomic level of the area they grew up in.

A Whole New World

Since spring training in Fort Myers is mandatory, the city usually serves as the international players first taste of living in the United States before leaving for their team assignments. This location tends to make the transition to the states a little easier, as the tropical climate mimics that of their home countries such as the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.

“Fort Myers has a bigger Hispanic population so it tends to be easier for them to access things on their own,” MacNaughton said. “In Salem they have a harder time gathering resources and tend to stick together instead of branching out.”

Representing the Dominican Republic

While the players have each other to get through the year, many of them often leave their families back home and do not see them until their season has concluded. Most communication is done over various smartphone apps or on a different cell phone that can contact international numbers.

Though Deanna’s primary role is being a teacher for the athletes, some also view her as a mother figure.

“I definitely pull the mom card sometimes, telling them I am proud of them or helping them calm down after a rough game,” MacNaughton said. “It’s nice to know they feel comfortable and safe around me, a few of them even call me mom.”

The minor league baseball season starts the first week of April and will last through September, giving Deanna and her students that complete a full season in Salem about six months together. However, she makes sure to keep in touch and keep tabs on all of her students, past and present.

“I always go to spring training and end up bursting into tears when I see them all for the first time in a while,” MacNaughton said. “But some reach out to me while they are playing for Boston’s other affiliates, not just the offseason.”

Since 2021, Deanna continues to work with the Salem Red Sox as the PA announcer, and helps translate player interviews for media appearances. She also remains in education working as a kindergarten teacher.

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