Mets’ Jose Butto and Francisco Alvarez gaining confidence speaking English: ‘You feel like, wow, this is different’

SAN FRANCISCO — José Buttó started learning English during his first season in the minor leagues, with the Mets setting up their prospects in the Dominican Summer League with English classes. Still, it would be a little while before the Venezuelan right-hander would need to use any of the phrases and words he was learning.

Once he got to Florida to play in Port St. Lucie, he wasn’t quite ready to start having conversations in English, but he was prepared for one thing: To order food off of menus at restaurants.

“In Port St. Lucie, that was the first thing we learned,” Buttó told the Daily News without using the Mets’ translator. “When we go to a restaurant, we learned how to order food. ‘Hi, can I get this? Can I get that?’ Here in the clubhouse and in baseball, we talk more with the [Spanish] players.”

Buttó is one of the Spanish-speaking Mets that has come so far with his English that he’s regularly speaking with the coaches, teammates and fans in what has become his second language. Even beyond the inside of the clubhouse, Buttó, Francisco Alvarez and Starling Marte have even started conducting interviews with the media in English.

Anyone who has ever tried to learn another language will understand that this is no small feat. Talking to the media in any language is intimidating for many. The trio feels as though they are now able to articulate themselves better.

“I know the guys coming up, they want to learn English now because we do it,” Alvarez said. “It’s good to see that everyone is doing and how we’re speaking normally. We can be a better person with our teammates. They can know we’re speaking English and they can talk with us Latin guys a lot more.”

The Mets set up their prospects with Spanish classes in the Dominican. Buttó attended them daily, but he still wasn’t always confident speaking English in the United States until about two years ago. And really, he didn’t need to. There are always plenty of Spanish-speaking players and coaches in the minor leagues, especially at the lower levels.

Even at the big league level, teams employ full-time translators, which the CBA mandates. The translators often help them in team meetings, but Butto wanted to be able to talk to his catchers and Alvarez his pitchers. They also wanted to interact with teammates without relying on a middleman for communication.

“I feel really comfortable and it’s helped,” Buttó said. “Sometimes, two years ago, people want to talk to you and you don’t know what they’re going to say. You feel like, wow, this is different. But now, I feel really good.”

Alvarez made it a priority once he reached the Major Leagues and the 22-year-old showed an impressive aptitude early in his quest to learn another language. The pitchers appreciated his eagerness to communicate, with high-profile arms like Max Scherzer commending him for his use of English as a rookie.

But this season, Alvarez, the youngest of the group, took it a step further and began talking to the media in English. When Buttó saw him holding court in the Mets clubhouse after he reported for spring training, it inspired him to do the same. Marte then did his first spring training scrum in English as well.

“When I saw Alvarez’s interview, I feel very proud because we always took English class together,” Butto said. “And it’s good when you see guys like him talking with [media members] normally.”

Normalcy is the key. Another language is starting to feel normal for them. Alvarez often asks third baseman Brett Baty and minor league third baseman Mark Vientos for help, but he has found that as he speaks the language more it becomes easier.

He’s not afraid to say something wrong, knowing how forgiving people will be with the learning process. He would forgive English speakers for making a mistake in Spanish, knowing it’s not their first language.

“It’s not that hard,” Alvarez said. “If you’re thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t talk, I might make a mistake,’ you just can’t worry about it.”

Buttó is teaching his young son some English words. His wife learned when she was younger, though being in Venezuela with his son, he knows she may lose some of the language. Still, Buttó remains proud of his own bilingual skills and even prouder that his son will grow up knowing some English as well.

As for Alvarez, the proud part is seeing his teammates follow his cue.

“I feel really proud,” he said. “It makes me feel really good.”

Bullpen moves

The Mets continue to make moves to ensure they have available arms in their bullpen. Monday, ahead of a three-game road series against San Francisco Giants they optioned right-hander Grant Hartwig to Triple-A Syracuse and designated right-hander Michael Tonkin for assignment, then called up left-hander Josh Walker from Syracuse and reinstated right-hander Sean Reid-Foley from the 15-day injured list.

These moves were somewhat expected since Tonkin and Hartwig won’t be available to pitch for a few days. Tonkin had pitched two days in a row in Los Angeles over the weekend and Hartwig picked up multiple innings in relief of Adrian Houser on Sunday in a loss to the Dodgers.

However, it was a tough move for Tonkin. The Mets designated him for assignment earlier this month and traded him for cash to the Minnesota Twins a few days later. The Twins placed him on waivers last week and the Mets jumped at a chance to bring him back. But once again, it was tough to keep him around. Tonkin, a journeyman reliever who played in Japan and for the Long Island Ducks of the Independent Atlantic League, was signed by the Mets in part because of his ability to pitch multiple innings. But that requires him to rest for a few days after a long outing and without any minor league options the Mets didn’t have much of a choice. They needed fresh arms in the bullpen. Tonkin is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in six appearances this season (9.0 innings).

The Mets don’t have a ton of relievers with options this season so there will be tough decisions made all year.

Reid-Foley started the season on the injured list with a shoulder impingement. He joined the team this weekend in Los Angeles and traveled to San Francisco with the group. Walker has gone 0-1 with a 2.79 ERA in 9 2/3 innings with Syracuse this season.