SAN DIEGO -- Personalities like that of Edinson Volquez aren't something you find every day in professional baseball. With a laugh as hearty as his fastball is hard and a smile as big as the break on his curveball, Volquez's demeanor can light up a clubhouse and force even the most serious of teammates into a reluctant grin.
But as big as his personality is, Volquez wasn't always able to show it as readily as he does today. When he first arrived from his native Dominican Republic to play baseball in the States in 2003, he didn't speak English, a barrier that not only tempered his humor, but made even everyday communication difficult.
"It's hard. The first two years, you don't know English," Volquez said. "Everywhere you go, you have to speak the language and you don't know English."
Baseball is joining in the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, and the tremendous impact of players from all over Latin America has been felt with every Major League team.
Nine years and a big league job later, the 29-year-old Volquez is trying to make sure other young players from his home country don't battle through the same experience. Volquez, who says he returns to the Dominican Republic after every season to see family, and sometimes play in the Dominican Winter League, also visits the academies for aspiring baseball players. While there, he serves as a mentor to the young athletes while also preaching a simple but crucial message: learn English.
"I talk to them: 'Try to be ready before you get to the States. Learn how to speak English, because it will be more easy for you to come from the Dominican,'" Volquez said. "Everything is going to be better. I think they have English classes now every day, which is good. When I was there, we didn't have that."
That Volquez now serves as a mentor to young Dominican hopefuls is only fitting, given that he was, and still is, mentored by his childhood hero, Dominican legend Pedro Martinez. The 6-foot, 225-pound Volquez modeled his dynamics after the much smaller Martinez, watching his hero whenever he could find a tape to dissect.
"My Dad got tape, and I always watched Pedro pitching. Especially when he pitched against the Yankees. That was crazy," Volquez said. "He was my model. I kept in my mind, 'I want to be like Pedro Martinez,' because he was one of the best pitchers in the game."
Now an established Major Leaguer himself, Volquez still gets the chance to learn from his countryman -- but now it's firsthand.
"Now I got a chance to work out with him after the season, talk to him a lot about pitching, how we're going to pitch, about mechanics, everything. He's a great guy," Volquez said. "It's like a dream come true to see this guy pitch on TV and now have a chance to play catch and work out. He was my hero."
Volquez is part of a new generation of Dominican baseball heroes inspiring youngsters to follow their Major League dreams and be prepared for everything that road entails. He and two friends he played with growing up, Rangers infielder Adrian Beltre and Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera, are among the corps of Dominican players who have made the journey with him.
The Padres righty, in particular, seems to enjoy nearly every second of his life as a big league starter, and Volquez helps others to do the same with a personality he can now fully express since knocking down that language barrier. While his smile may translate to any language, Volquez knows that the ability to talk with teammates, coaches and even within the community is a crucial part of what's made him a successful Major Leaguer.