When Orioles reliever Pedro Strop first came to the United States in 2003, the native of San Cristobal, Dominican Republic, wanted to learn English as quick as he could.Why? "Because I'm a friendly guy," said Strop, who spent his first years as a professional baseball player taking English classes in the offseason. "I'm a guy that always likes talking and playing around. "Having some more Latin guys in the clubhouse -- when you get to talk about something in your country about Venezuela, the Dominican -- it's way easier and more comfortable to be in the clubhouse. They can help you with something you need. You can help them. But at the same time, I talk with everybody. And I like to be talking with my American guys, too."
Strop, Baltimore's setup man, is one of the more outgoing personalities in the clubhouse, and can often be found strolling around in a Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles T-shirt, wearing a big smile as he interacts with teammates. The 27-year-old has always been this way, even before he was a teenage infielder who signed with the Colorado Rockies.Strop changed positions a few years later, when he -- along with Esmil Rogers, his teammate at the Rockies' Dominican Academy -- was converted to the mound and promoted to the rookie-level Casper Rockies in 2006. "I'm pretty sure it was because I couldn't hit," Strop said, laughing as he recalled his time as a batter. "I always had a pretty good arm, and that was another option in case they got tired of my swing. "They kept trying and trying, because they thought I had a lot of talent at shortstop. They really believed I could be a really good shortstop in the Major Leagues, and there was a point where they couldn't wait anymore because [the Rule 5 Draft] and other stuff was coming up. And they knew because of my arm, there was a chance someone else could take me." So Strop made the switch, going 1-0 in 11 appearances with a 2.08 ERA in his first season on the mound. And the young player, who grew up aspiring to be like fellow countryman Jose Reyes, found himself with a newfound appreciation for Panama native Mariano Rivera. "The way he looked and stuff, he made it so easy and was just so consistent, and everything was perfect," Strop said of the Yankees' closer. "I would always talk about that guy, like, 'Wow, it's amazing.' I would love to be like him." Like most Latin players, Strop grew up around baseball and aspired to someday leave his home country and play baseball in the Major Leagues. And while he couldn't have predicted his success as a setup man this year with the Orioles, Strop is enjoying the ride and fitting right in with a close-knit Baltimore club. "It's the first year that I have a role on the team," said Strop, who was acquired in a late-season trade with the Texas Rangers in 2011. "I've been working so hard to keep and maintain the consistency [from earlier this year], so I can help my team anytime I'm on the mound."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.