SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Felipe Alou and Orlando Cepeda knew little English when they arrived in the minor leagues in the mid-1950s, putting them among the first wave of Spanish-speaking players thrown into a different culture to play professional baseball, build new lives and send money back home.
It was their chance to make it in the sport they loved, provided they could overcome challenges that often extended beyond the field.
Early on, well before blossoming into a Hall of Famer, Cepeda was told by a manager to go home to Puerto Rico and learn English before coming back to his career in the U.S. Alou had similar experiences and forced himself to speak some English when he arrived from the Dominican Republic, yet he still lacked confidence in the language.
"Coming here my first year, everything was a novelty to me, a surprise," Cepeda recalled. "When I came to Virginia, I was there for one month and my father died. My dad said, 'I want to see my son play pro ball,' and he died the day before I played my first game in Virginia."
"From there I went to Puerto Rico and when I came back here, I had to come back because we didn't have no money and my mother said, 'You've got to go back and send me money, we don't have money to eat,'" he said.
That was a common sentiment then, and is often still the case nearly 60 years later.