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'Friends' and Joey Tribbiani helped Latino ballplayers learn English

When you think about the TV show “Friends,” chances are you don’t think of baseball. The titular friends don’t play baseball and they don’t really talk about baseball (despite living in New York, a city with two major league baseball teams). But the show is extremely popular among a number of Latino ballplayers, and for a very simple reason: it helped them learn English.

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James Wagner of the New York Times spoke to several Latin American baseball players about their love of “Friends,” and they all gave the sitcom credit for helping them become more comfortable with English. While many Latino players learn basic English skills when they’re young or after they get to the U.S., it’s far from what they need to effectively communicate in America.

Here’s how Wilmer Flores of the New York Mets put it:

“The basics you can learn in a classroom,” said Flores, who was interviewed in Spanish, along with most of the players, for ease. “But to speak the language, that comes from here in the clubhouse, on the street or from television.”

And that’s where “Friends” comes in. Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis didn’t learn English until later in life, so when he came to the U.S. he would watch “Friends” with the subtitles on.

“You can compare what’s going on that way,” he said. “If they say ‘happy,’ you see he’s happy and the subtitle says ‘feliz’, then you can learn. You might not learn 100 percent, but you’ll learn to associate.”

These “Friends” helped Latino baseball players become more comfortable with English. (NBC)

Galvis is a “Friends” devotee, but Flores is a full-on fanatic. He uses the theme song as his walk-up music when he’s playing at Citi Field, and has visited the set where the show was filmed. And both Galvis and Flores still watch “Friends” all the time despite having a more-than-solid grasp on English. Galvis watches with the subtitles with his wife to help her learn English just like he did. And Flores is pretty much all “Friends” all the time.

“Now that it’s on Netflix, I always put it on and watch it,” said Mets infielder Wilmer Flores, 26, who is from Venezuela. “When I get up in the morning, I turn on the TV, and whatever episode is there I’ll watch and keep watching. I stop it when I come to the stadium. When I come home from the stadium, I pick up where I left off.”

It may seem crazy, but watching TV (and consuming other pop culture) is a solid way to become more comfortable with English. “Friends” ran for ten years (1994-2004), has 236 (!!!) episodes, and is still heavily syndicated. Episodes still run on local TV channels, TBS and Nick at Nite. Even 13 years after the show ended, it’s still easy to find it on TV. And as Flores pointed out, it’s now available on Netflix.

Everything in the article is great, but the awesomest thing might be the consensus choice for favorite character: Joey Tribbiani, the down-on-his-luck actor who’s a hit with the ladies. So to celebrate the important role “Friends” (and Joey Tribbiani) has played in the lives of some of our favorite ballplayers, here’s a classic Joey clip:

If Galvis or Flores suddenly yell “Joey doesn’t share food!” in the clubhouse when someone tries to take their sunflower seeds, everyone should know why.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher

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