The documentary film crew noticed it the first day that Orioles' prospect Xu Guiyuan arrived at the Buck O'Neil spring training complex from China: He was speaking multiple languages.
The Mandarin was expected. It is China's major language.
Xu's English was anticipated, too. He is originally from Shenzhen, Guandong Province, but has been learning English at the three Major League Baseball developmental centers where he has lived and trained since he was a boy.
But the American film crew, which had wired Xu with a small microphone, noticed he was alternating between Mandarin and Cantonese, sometimes in mid-conversation.
Cantonese is a distinct Chinese language common in Hong Kong. Since Shenzhen is located in the same province as Hong Kong, the crew (myself included) probably should not have been surprised he was speaking some Cantonese.
Xu and Jackson Zhuo would toggle between Mandarin and Cantonese in conversations following batting and fielding drills. Zhuo is here temporarily as a coach but is normally a baseball instructor based in China.
"Some words I don't know how to say the Chinese so I speak Cantonese to him," Zhuo said.
Among Xu's friends at camp are a Korean pitcher and a Venezuelan outfielder. The outfielder, Oswil Lartiguez, is Xu's roommate -- they share a small hotel room -- and has been teaching him Spanish.
At dinner at Chipotle on Thursday night in a Sarasota strip mall, Xu stood up and demonstrated the Spanish he had learned so far.
"Let me see. Como Estas," he began. "Vamos. Come on. Right?"
Xu, whose nickname is "Itchy," seems to work on his English almost as much as his baseball skills, and for the same reason. He wants to make it in the United States. He wants to belong.
He's trying to become the first player from mainland China to play in the big leagues. He is eager to make sure he can communicate effectively with coaches, teammates and fans.
"Jackson, he will be leaving," Xu said. "I don't want a translator too much."
From China to Birdland