Nine years ago, I lived in Japan and it was one of the more difficult times in my life because my command of the language was not that strong and as a result, communication was extremely difficult. Expressing simple ideas or asking straightforward questions was difficult and forced me to learn Japanese quickly.
It was an odd feeling not being able to speak in English and have everyone understand your words.
Having lived in a foreign country before, it was interesting to feel for a second time around the same helpless feeling of not being able to communicate. After our Saturday game in China, we were on the bus having just left Wukesong Stadium and going back to the Grand Hyatt Beijing. The players wanted the bus driver to turn on the air conditioning. Problem was, the bus driver spoke Mandarin and I did not.
Minutes later, shortstop Chin-Lung Hu walked from the back of the bus and asked the bus driver to turn on the air. We were saved. In a nutshell, that experience was how a good part of my trip felt.
From the vantage point of the logistics executor, it can be challenging when you cannot get what you want – especially when you are used to getting what you want for a group with occasionally high expectations. Everyone in the travel party had to make mental adjustments to what they believed was the norm. Cooperation and understanding from player to coach to staff member was crucial and greatly appreciated.
On Sunday morning, just before 6:30 am, I received an international cell phone call from outfielder Andruw Jones. Andruw – probably a few floors above me at the hotel — explained that he handed off his suitcases to a bellman but the bellman had no clue as to where to take his luggage.
The previous day, both the Dodgers and Padres were given reassurance that the bellmen would know that the luggage was going to be collected in a large conference room for inventory. This plan was put into motion to ensure that every suitcase and bag made it on to the correct team charter and most importantly, back to the United States. In Andruw’s case, his particular bellman did not know what to do and that necessitated a few fast and furious phone calls to remedy the situation.
The previous evening, my prepaid MLB-issued cell phone had run out of minutes, so I had to use the room phone to call MLB staffers. First, I had to deal with an operator who asked me to spell the name of each person whom I wanted to call. After getting through the operator hurdle, I was able to contact MLB International’s James Pearce – I think I woke him up – and let him know of the problem. James fixed that problem, probably through an interpreter is my guess, and we were saved again.
During the season when we travel on the road, turning on the air conditioning and speaking to the hotel about the bellmen are simple tasks that require seconds of attention. In a foreign country where you cannot communicate, even the easiest requests require some thinking, patience, and most of all, time.
Going to China was a great experience. Being a part of the first MLB games in China will be something that I will never forget. The Great Wall of China was breathtaking, meeting actor and martial artist Jet Li was cool, sitting in an airplane cockpit was awesome, and hanging out with Joe Torre continues to be an invaluable learning experience. However, if I end up going back one day to China, I want to go as a tourist with an interpreter by my side.