The recipient of a $1.75 million contract after defecting from Cuba in the mid-1990s, Vladimir Nunez had the money that most of his minor league teammates were lacking.

With no understanding of English, though, the pitcher couldn't order from a restaurant menu or get help with directions in the rookie Pioneer League.

It was a lonely and confusing existence, but Nunez was determined to assimilate into his new country. That is where teammate Junior Spivey came in.

As a late-round draft choice, the infielder had little money. But he could speak English.

"I told him, 'I'll buy you chicken and pizza every day if I have to, but I want you right next to me,'" the veteran Gwinnett Braves right-hander recalled 13 years later. "I knew I had to learn the language. I didn't want to be lost anymore."

How lost was Nunez? "I was late for the stretch. I was late for the national anthem. I was late for the bus," he recalled further. "I was late for everything, because I couldn't understand what anyone was saying."

Foreign-born baseball players today don't experience the isolation that they did at one time. There are too many of them, with about 30 percent of major leaguers and around 40 percent of minor leaguers coming from outside the United States.

Communication, however, remains an issue, especially in the minors.

"One of my goals was to be able to talk to the manager by myself," said G-Braves reliever Mariano Gomez, a native of Honduras. "I didn't want to have anyone in there in his office with me."

The Atlanta Braves have English classes for young players during spring training and always have a Spanish-speaking coach or manager with their lower minor league teams. But once a player reaches Class AA and Class AAA, he is pretty much on his own.

The G-Braves have had as many as a dozen foreign-born players on their 24-man roster at a given time this year, all of them Latino. But manager Dave Brundage doesn't speak Spanish and the only one on his staff with any grasp of the language is Derek Botelho, the pitching coach.

"I know how difficult it can be," Botelho said. "I played five years in Venezuela and coached there for five years. At first, I couldn't even order anything to eat."

The Gwinnett players vary in there ability to speak and understand English. Most are comfortable speaking it at least a little, but not all. Leading hitter Barbaro Canizares speaks almost no English, relying on roommate and fellow Cuban defector Francisley Bueno to navigate any confusion.

Although he didn't know the language at all when he began his career in 2000, Venezuela-born catcher Alvin Colina is now completely bilingual.

"He speaks better English than I do," Brundage said.

The outgoing Colina practiced and practiced to get that way, believing that it was part of his job.

"I worked on my pronunciation a lot," Colina said. "I didn't want to just say the words so that I could be understood. I wanted to pronounce them correctly."

The key to learning any language, Colina feels, is not being shy. "You can't be afraid to make mistakes at first," he said. "The more you try, the better you get. As we learn English, some of the Americans learn a little Spanish."

"I like seeing Latin players doing interviews in English," Brundage said. "It shows that they are really making an effort. I know how difficult that must be at first. It would be embarrassing for me to try to do an interview in Spanish."

When Brundage has a meeting with a Latino player, he tries to make sure that they are truly communicating, not just guessing at what each other is saying.

"Some meetings are more important than others," Brundage said. "I don't want to have a player say he understands, when he doesn't. Sometimes we'll have another player in the room, but we try to avoid that unless it's necessary. Most of our players have a pretty good understanding of English."

Garcia, who like Colina began his career in 2000, has made steady progress after struggling early on.

"It was difficult at first," the left-handed reliever said. "You spend six months with your teammates and coaches. It is very hard when you don't speak the language."

"You have to feel free to speak," said Nunez, who once saved 20 games for the Florida Marlins. "You can't be embarrassed if you make a mistake. When I was learning, I'd get a high-five when I said something right. That kept me going.

"When I was in school in Cuba, there were English classes. But I didn't pay attention. When I got to the United States, I wished that I had. Thankfully, I had Junior Spivey. When we both were in the big leagues, we went out to party and both of us had big steaks."