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SF Giants’ Latin gamers cherish swing via Tampa, Miami: ‘Like house’

San Francisco Giants’ Thairo Estrada reacts after his solo home run off Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Ryan Pepiot during the fourth inning of a baseball game Saturday, April 13, 2024, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

MIAMI — As Thairo Estrada rounded third after his first of two home runs this week at Tropicana Field, he gestured to a contingent in Giants orange in the seats behind the visitors’ dugout. There was his wife, Lorena, and his daughter, Arantza, but also a friend, Jhayme, taking advantage of a rare visit from Estrada and his ball club from faraway San Francisco.

Catching up a couple days beforehand, the buddies of four years or so had a prescient conversation, the kind that’s a little tougher — modern technology be damned — on opposite coasts.

“We had very positive conversations — that’s what I like to do — and he mentioned to me that during one of those three games, I was going to go deep,” Estrada said in Spanish through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “So that’s why I pointed. It’s pretty nice to be able to come over here and have your friends see you play and have my wife and my daughter at the stadium, as well, it makes it really special.”

The Giants may be far from home — further than anywhere they’ll go this year — but for Estrada, of Venezuela, and many of his Latin teammates, the weeklong swing through the Sunshine State has been a revitalizing re-entrance into the culture they cherish and are most familiar.

“I feel like I’m home, like I’m in the Dominican,” closer Camilo Doval said in Spanish. “There’s a big Latin community here, a lot of Latin people. When you go out, you see a lot of people and there’s a lot of places where you can distract yourself.”

From San Francisco to San Diego, there is no shortage of Spanish-speakers in the Giants’ home state. But rarely does a team from the Bay Area get such an extended exposure to the Caribbean-influenced streets of Miami and, to a lesser degree, Tampa-St. Petersburg.

While the Giants make annual trips to play the Marlins, it was their first visit to Tampa since 2016. The team had never strung the two series together to get an entire week — with a day off, to boot, albeit a rainy one — to soak up whatever creature comforts a segment of their clubhouse struggles to find in their home from April to October.

Jorge Soler, of Cuba, laughed and shook his head.

“No,” he has not been able to find a plate of arroz con pollo, ropa vieja or even a fried plantain that holds a candle to what he can find here, in Miami, home to the country’s largest Cuban population and where the 6-foot-4 slugger from Habana spent the previous two seasons and calls home in the winter.

Thanks to Jung Hoo Lee and the dedicated press corps relaying his daily goings on to his fans following closely from Korea, scrums of a dozen or more reporters asking questions in a foreign language has been a regular sight this season in the Giants’ clubhouse.

Back in Miami, an hour’s flight from the Cuban capital, it was Soler’s turn to take the baton, cordially answering questions in Spanish for close to 15 minutes before Monday’s game.

Unlike some of the Korean media, in the country on assignment, this is home for the journalists providing updates for the 75% of households in Miami-Dade County that speak a language other than English.

“Obviously it was a lot easier (playing here) because we speak the same language, we understand each other,” Soler said. “So it felt like I was basically in Cuba over there.”

What is most appealing varies from player to player, but Doval summed up his appreciation of the culture here in two words.

“The vibes.”

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