What has the sitcom done for his English proficiency?
âItâs near perfect,â said Floresâs teammate, Jerry Blevins, who is from Tennessee. âWhen he doesnât know something, itâs surprising.â
Flores, Peralta and Galvis built a rudimentary command of English in school in Venezuela. âBut I always got bad grades because I didnât like that way of learning,â Galvis said.
Gonzalez, who was surrounded by Spanish, his first language, at home, also had English classes in school when he moved to Southern California. Some players also received English instruction after signing with a team.
But these players said that they learned more when they arrived in the United States and fully plunged into English. In terms of immersion, few things compare to landing in a small minor-league town with few Spanish speakers â and needing to order food.
Popular culture, especially âFriends,â was education through entertainment.
âThe basics you can learn in a classroom,â said Flores, who was interviewed in Spanish, along with most of the players, for ease. âBut to speak the language, that comes from here in the clubhouse, on the street or from television.â
Flores said he cannot remember exactly when he first watched âFriends,â but it was sometime early in his minor league career in the United States, perhaps when he was in Class A as a teenager and far from home. Although he said he understood enough English then, he was too unsure to respond in conversation. As he grew more comfortable, he soaked up words from teammates and bought the DVDâs for all 10 seasons of âFriends,â which ran from 1994 to 2004, so he could watch it again at home in the off-season.
Now he is surely baseballâs biggest âFriendsâ fanatic. He has visited the studio in Burbank, Calif. where the show was filmed , and has chosen the showâs theme song to be played on the stadium public-address system when itâs his turn to bat during home games.
Flores said he still watches it almost every day, and that he had seen every episode at least seven times. âMy mom thinks I watch it too much,â he said.
Gonzalez speaks perhaps the best English of this bunch because he was exposed to it at a young age growing up in San Fernando, Calif. Yet he still had help from movies and television shows, including âSaved by the Bellâ â and âFriends,â which he watched with an uncle.
âThatâs what he watched, so weâd sit there and watch TV with him,â Gonzalez said.
For Galvis, the English-language broadcast with Spanish subtitles on Venezuelan television, was an excellent learning tool. âYou can compare whatâs going on that way,â he said. âIf they say âhappy,â you see heâs happy and the subtitle says âfelizâ, then you can learn. You might not learn 100 percent, but youâll learn to associate.â
And if Severino did not understand a word from the show, he would ask teammates or friends for help.
Peralta said that listening to music in English and marrying an American woman were also beneficial. He does not need subtitles anymore to watch âFriends,â and still watches it daily despite having already seen every episode.
âWhen weâre in Arizona, it starts at 11 p.m. on Nick at Nite, so I watch until 1 a.m. and then I go to sleep,â he said.
Most of the players said Joey, the floundering actor played by Matt LeBlanc, was their favorite character. The showâs comedy appealed to them even though â or perhaps because â the lives of six white Americans in the West Village hardly resembled their own.
The New York that Flores has come to know playing for the Mets is not like the one represented in âFriends.â âIn photos, it all looks the same, but the traffic and driving around is way different,â he said.
Like Flores, Galvis is evangelical about âFriends.â He tells young Spanish-speaking players that he is living proof that consuming popular culture in English can help. And although he is now a capable English speaker, he still watches âFriendsâ with subtitles in Spanish so that his wife can learn English.
Marta Kauffman, one of the creators of the show, said she was delighted to hear about its unlikely and unintended impact on certain players. She compared the phenomenon to how Viagra was originally designed to treat heart problems but later was embraced for a very different purpose.
âYou always want your show to be enjoyable and for people to say, âOh my God, I love watching your show,ââ she said. âBut what you donât expect is for it to accomplish something, and this feels mighty fine.â
Kauffman added that she would love to meet the âFriendsâ-loving players one day. But she offered one regret: âTo the player whose wife is sick of watching it so much, I apologize.â