SARASOTA, FLA. – Down one of the hallways in the Orioles clubhouse at the Ed Smith Stadium Complex, flags from each country represented on the team's roster hang.
The idea was manager Buck Showalter's, and when the Orioles reached an agreement with right-hander Suk-min Yoon, Showalter said he had to make sure to add a South Korean flag.
Showalter talks often about the clubhouse chemistry he’s created here, and part of that has been helping foreign players adjust to a new land, a new language and the American game.
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That is important given executive vice president Dan Duquette’s devotion to international signings.
Yoon, who is the first South Korean-born player in franchise history, is the latest addition. But he joins an increasing list of players that include Taiwanese left-hander Wei-Yin Chen and Cuban outfielders Henry Urrutia and Dariel Alvarez. A few weeks ago, the Orioles acquired 17-year-old Mexican corner infielder Carlos Diaz and 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Jomar Reyes.
"We're making good progress on the international market,” Duquette said. “Of course, Chen made an immediate contribution to the major league team and we hope that Yoon will be able to help us during the year. Beyond that, we signed some really good young players.”
Even with younger players, the Orioles have been careful. Diaz worked out in Sarasota – and even participated in workouts with major leaguers last week -- and is now in minor league camp. Reyes had been been working out at the Orioles’ Dominican academy before reporting to minor league camp.
The Orioles have a good clubhouse, and I’ve seen firsthand how they embraced Chen. Some faces have changed since his arrival two years ago, but he is fully integrated. The other day, closer Tommy Hunter was even joking about how they taught Chen plenty of English, but mostly curse words.
"I have a lot of confidence in the culture of our guys,” Showalter said. “You see the flags up there. I wanted our guys to understand that we're not in this world alone. There are other people in this world who can play this game as well, if not better, than us. We embrace anybody who can help us win and we think he [Yoon] has a chance to do that.
“You put yourself in Henry Urrutia's shoes, coming out of Cuba and being stuck in Haiti, and the next thing you know, he's here,” he added. “We were talking about today, this is Henry's first real foray into spring training, big league camp. So you're sympathetic, but you're not empathetic. You try to make the transition as fast as possible.
"I think the mistake you make is if you try to make them adjust to you instead of you adjusting to him. I'm real confident in our guys."
Yoon has been working out in California all offseason, so he’s had some time to adjust to the United States. He said he’s familiar with the American baseball versus the one used in South Korea. He’s used it in the past two World Baseball Classics and has been throwing with his own since November.
“I think it's going to be pretty seamless, but at the same time, we'll have our radar up about things we can do,” Showalter said. “We've been fortunate to have really good interpreters who have kept us ahead of the game. We want to make his path easier and I think our players are good at that."