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Pagan takes pride in helping teammates communicate

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POSTED July 3, 2012 1:41 a.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Angel Pagan pulls up a chair next to pitcher Santiago Casilla to offer support, as both a thoughtful teammate and an interpreter.

He even interjects his own thoughts from time to time, calling Casilla’s long journey to consistent closer a “brave” one.

The San Francisco Giants’ friendly new center fielder has been as reliable in the clubhouse as he has on the diamond in the first half.

And Pagan — who turned 31 on Monday — loves every minute of it. He looks back and considers his brief stint studying English in community college among the best decisions he ever made, and it didn’t even have to do with baseball. Yet it sure has helped him to communicate in his athletic career, and aided so many others along the way, too.

“That’s part of being a teammate,” Pagan said. “I’m here for my teammates. If I were in Puerto Rico, I’d do it in Spanish. That’s the good thing about speaking both languages. It’s fun. It’s part of it, and I like it.”

While spending the past four seasons with the New York Mets, Pagan helped out Ruben Tejada and, back in 2009, Wilson Valdez before he departed. Phillies pitcher Raul Valdes is another former Pagan pupil during their time together, and Pagan even recalls fondly his dealings with Jose Reyes when they were minor leaguers — and Reyes now speaks English with confidence while playing in Miami.

“Anybody who needed my help,” Pagan said. “We didn’t have anyone to translate.”

Pagan’s presence in the clubhouse has brought so much to the Giants (45-35), who went into their off day Monday in Washington with a one-game lead in the NL West ahead of the slumping Los Angeles Dodgers.

Pagan, who received a $4.85 million, one-year contract in January to avoid arbitration, has helped lessen the sting of losing Andres Torres — another popular face with teammates and fans.

Torres went to the Mets along with reliever Ramon Ramirez in the December winter meetings trade that brought Pagan to the Bay Area.

“He cares about us,” All-Star third baseman Pablo Sandoval said of Pagan. “That’s a good thing when a new guy comes here. We made a relationship, like a family. I knew the kind of person he was, when everybody was talking about him when he was with the Mets. He’s a great guy who wants to support his teammates. He likes to help the team and the Latin guys. When he came here, that’s the first thing he did is help Melky and the guys around him.”

Pagan is hitting .292 with five home runs, four triples, 14 doubles and 31 RBIs as San Francisco nears the All-Star break looking like the favorite to win the NL West. That’s after the Giants missed the playoffs a year ago following their improbable run to the 2010 World Series championship.

The new-look outfield of Pagan, Melky Cabrera and Gregor Blanco is a big reason why. With Cabrera and Blanco also new to the club, Pagan’s influence and commitment to easing the transition for those two has been a key part of how well things are going.

“He enjoys it,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “The time he spent in New York helps him deal with the media. That’s what it’s about. He wants to help out anywhere.”

Pagan has dealt with plenty of change himself. The Cubs purchased his contract from the Mets in January 2006, and Pagan played two seasons in Chicago before being traded back to New York.

He knows he can relate those experiences and the expertise he has gained along the way.

“It’s very important you speak the right words in the media,” Pagan said. “You don’t want to be misunderstood. You want to speak well. Every time I help these guys, it helps me, too. It helps my brain, and I feel good about it. I feel like I’m helping my teammates big time, and that fills my heart with pride.”

After being drafted by the Mets in the fourth round in 1999, Pagan could have chosen Miami Dade College for the one year he spent in school. Yet Pagan knew he would be surrounded by fellow Puerto Ricans and other Latinos speaking nothing but Spanish. He wanted a new push, a challenge that would pay off with him becoming bilingual.

So he opted to attend Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce, Fla., where he worked to master English in a mere four months.

“I went to college for a reason — to learn the language. Every class was in English. That prepared me for this,” Pagan said. “That’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my career, personally and professionally. If you see me now, I can speak the language. I can help my teammates.

“I wanted to be independent and be prepared for my career.”

While many clubs now have training facilities that offer language training in the Dominican Republic and other Spanish-speaking nations, players still must acclimate quickly once they get to the United States.

Rookie Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland Athletics has countryman and former A’s pitcher Ariel Prieto to help him. Though the outfielder has vowed to soon do a full interview in English sometime this summer.

That’s why what Pagan brings off the field means so much.

“It’s very important for him to help us out,” Blanco said. “Especially myself and Melky, who doesn’t speak any English. I’m just starting my career in the big leagues, and he’s saying, ‘Keep doing that’ and supports me.”

Now, Pagan jokes about learning another language, like Japanese. He insists he might just do it.

“When I started speaking English, I never thought I’d pick it up,” Pagan said. “I’m very happy with what I’ve done. It’s one of those things you think back, ‘Wow, what I went through to get where I’m at.’”

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