PHOENIX -- Sixty-three pitchers and catchers began reporting to the Brewers' Minor League complex on Tuesday for the start of Spring Training, offering right-hander Wily Peralta an opportunity to reflect on his own nervous arrival eight years ago.
Peralta signed as a 16-year-old with the Brewers in 2005, during a period that the club did not operate an academy in the Dominican Republic for young Latin American prospects. Instead, the Brewers invested those dollars in higher-profile players and imported them directly to the U.S.
For Peralta, the culture shock proved problematic.
"Oh, man, the first day was tough," he said after pitching three scoreless innings against the A's. "I remember the Brewers had a translator waiting for us at the airport, and he had to take us to buy food and everything. I didn't know how to say anything [in English]. I didn't even know how to say hello.
"We had 8-10 guys, and nobody spoke any English. That was really, really tough for us. You had to learn the language and you had to learn baseball. I remember the first time doing PFP [pitchers' fielding practice] and I was like, 'PFP? What's that?' They would say, 'Third! First!' You had to back up the base. I made sure I was never the first to do it, because I wanted to see the American guys do it first."
In 2009, the Brewers returned to an academy in the Dominican Republic, where players are schooled in English, culture and baseball alike. Still, Peralta makes a point to mentor young Latin American prospects making the leap to the U.S. They stay in a hotel adjacent to Brewers Major Leaguers during Spring Training.
"I talk to them, try to call and hang out with them and just see if they have any questions for me," Peralta said. "I ask them questions, too. We're always talking about baseball."