STORRS, Conn. — The morning after UConn announced the indefinite suspensions of backup quarterback Cody Endres and offensive guard Erik Kuraczea, head coach Randy Edsall wasn’t about to divulge the specific team and university policies the players violated.

But he didn’t shy away from his disappointment in his players.

“I don’t want to talk about guys that aren’t here,” Edsall said Thursday. “The only guys that mean anything to me are the guys that are out here practicing. … The guys that aren’t here, I don’t want to talk about them because I’m wasting my breath, because obviously they didn’t feel it was in the best interest of our team to do what was right to be out here.”

Whatever the transgression, it sent a jolt through training camp. Endres is known for being easy going and has a reputation as one of the team’s nice guys.

Said starting quarterback Zach Frazer: “It’s definitely a shocking thing. It just all of a sudden hit us. We weren’t

expecting anything like that, we don’t expect that on our team. It was (Endres’) decision and he has to live with what happened to him. I wish him the best of luck. It was his decision, and it went that way.”

Frazer and Endres were the only quarterbacks with game experience. Last season, Endres started seven games and completed 98-of-154 passes. He had 1,354 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. Should Frazer sustain an injury during Endres’ suspension, the Huskies could be in trouble.

The loss of Endres means three untested players — Michael Box, Johnny McEntee and Leon Kinnard — are all battling for the No. 2 spot in Endres’ absence, however long that might be.

If Thursday morning’s practice was any indication of who holds the early lead, it’s Box. The redshirt freshman out of Suwanee, Ga., completed a higher percentage of his passes than his peers and had a better grasp of what was being asked of him.

The 6-foot-3, 209-pound Box said his biggest task is to make smarter decisions. He along with the other quarterbacks don’t hesitate to ask the two people who know the system best — offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead or Frazer — for advice.

Recognizing the opportunity at hand, Box called the added repetitions a “nice adjustment.”

“Things happen and you never know when your time is going to be called,” Box said. “All you can do every single day is train like you’re going to be the starter. You’re always one play, two plays, three plays away from going in and you just have to be ready when your time is called.”

Losing Kuraczea, who started five games last season, doesn’t hurt the Huskies as much as the loss of Endres because of the team’s significant depth across the offensive line.

Edsall said linemen Steve Greene, Gus Cruz and Gary Bardzak are vying for second-string spots.

STORRS, Conn. — It didn’t take very long, the first day of training camp in fact, for UConn football coach Randy Edsall to make his first big change of the season.

With so much inexperience in the Huskies’ secondary, Edsall decided to take over coaching the safeties from new defensive backs coach Darrell Perkins.

It wasn’t a quick-fire dismissal of Perkins’ abilities. Instead, Edsall felt if he and Perkins split the responsibilities with Perkins taking the cornerbacks, they would be able to provide greater instruction to their pupils.

“I had a chance to really reflect over the summertime in terms of where we are and what we need to do in terms of being the best we can,” Edsall said last week. “I think that’s always the role of the head coach. You have to sit down and exam where you can help your team. The one thing I saw was we were young on the outside, we were young at safety. We came back and I told the defensive coaches.”

The Huskies are looking at one senior, two juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen — both redshirts — on the positional depth chart. One of those players, Mike Lang, is moving from wide receiver. Another, Kijuan Dabney, is moving back after playing linebacker and is recovering from an arm injury.

Lang, who played safety in high school and returned an interception 75 yards in a Florida state playoff game, would start at free safety if the season began today.

“The one thing that I liked was that he was a guy (in high school) that was physical and would hit you,” Edsall said.

“I thought that he could make that transition, and he’s done fine. He’s done fine from the mental part of it. He’s a smart kid, he understands football. He’s picking up the techniques. With every game that he plays, he’s going to get better.”

Losing valuable resources among the defensive backs such as Robert Vaughn, Robert McClain and Jasper Howard is putting additional pressure on the safeties. But it’s welcomed, as they are ready to prove themselves.

“I miss them, but they’re not there to hold my hand like they used to,” said Jerome Junior. “Before Jazz had passed, he used to hold my hand, he used to be on my case about everything. Now that they’re gone, I have to step up my game because I have to do the same thing they did to me with the other guys.”

Dabney has 21 career games, Junior 13 and Harris Agbor five. The rest of the bunch have yet to see game experience at safety.

Coaching defensive backs is nothing new to Edsall. He worked in that capacity with Syracuse (1987-90), Boston College (1991-93), the Jacksonville Jaguars (1994-97) and Georgia Tech (1998).

Edsall has had to improve his time management skills, but just over a week into camp, the results have been positive.

“It makes me more confident that I have someone who has that much knowledge that has my back, supporting me like that,” Junior said. “I pretty much know everything in the playbook, but he’s gone into more detail about other positions. That’s what helped me out.”

Junior said having Edsall as a position coach is normal for him because Edsall would always be in his ear. Now the rest of the safeties get a taste.

For Agbor, having Edsall around the safeties throughout practice was initially intimidating. That fear quickly manifested itself into motivation.

“I say this haphazardly, because he is the head coach, you’re pressured into wanting to do things right and really learn your stuff because he’s on you in the meeting rooms, he’s on you on the field,” Agbor said. “Because of that, I’ve seen a lot of progress out of myself.”

STORRS, Conn. — The air Zach Frazer breaths isn’t as sparse as it was a year ago. Nor does he see anyone on his heels when he looks over his shoulder.

For UConn’s quarterback, it’s a refreshing change of pace from a year ago. Amazing what a little job security will do for you.

Frazer begins the season firmly entrenched as the Huskies’ signal caller, a far cry from last season when Frazer had to do battle with Cody Endres. Injuries and performance created inconsistency at the position that, following four wins to cap last season and a solid spring, have the redshirt senior finally in charge.

“I’m definitely a lot more confident,” Frazer said. “I feel we worked hard over the summer in trying to get everyone in here working toward the ultimate goal, which is to try to win this season.”

Even with the full endorsement of his coaching staff and teammates, Frazer doesn’t take his spot for granted. He knows that if he fails to execute, Endres will be waiting to step in.

Still, coach Randy Edsall believes this year’s Huskies have a leg up on last season’s team because there isn’t a quarterback battle.

“I think that helps with the continuity of your offense, that people know that that’s the guy — they get used to one guy,” Edsall said. “Then I think that quarterback can really take on that leadership role a little bit more.”

In eight games, Frazer completed 116 of his 218 passes for 1,461 yards, 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

A year ago, the questions of who should start when both quarterbacks were healthy made Frazer uncomfortable and Edsall went as far as to restrict Frazer’s media availability.

But with a year under his belt running the offense installed by second-year coordinator Joe Moorhead, Frazer said he has gone from understanding to knowing what is expected of him.

“This year we have a great opportunity,” he said. “We’ve had the offense installed, we have plenty of starters coming back offensively and defensively, so I feel like we’re going to exceed those expectations and come out and win.”

The improvements started to show down the stretch of last season. It began when the Frazer-led Huskies narrowly lost on the road to conference champion Cincinnati in a shootout. The following week, Frazer paced UConn in an overtime thriller against his old school, Notre Dame. The Huskies tacked on three more wins, including an impressive win over South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.

In those games, Frazer was expected to be more of a game manager who just so happened to have a big arm. Now, in his final season, Frazer appears ready to put it all together. His teammates have taken notice through the early days of training camp.

“He’s definitely matured,” center Moe Petrus said. “He’s taken on more of a leadership role. He’s got guys organized for 7-on-7 (drills) — he’s at every one, he’s directing the group, making sure guys are on time, holding guys accountable. His passing game — I think he has one interception in 350 passes this camp. He’s doing really well. He’s come a long way since last year and the year before that.”

NORWICH, Conn. — High above the field at Dodd Stadium, Clemente Mendoza has an odd vantage point of the field he calls home.

On this day, Mendoza isn’t taking the field as a starting pitcher for the Connecticut Tigers. Instead, he’s learning how to view baseball — and life — differently by learning English.

The Venezuelan is one of six Tigers participating in the team’s English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, class. The classes are conducted in association with the Norwich Department of Education.

With baseball featuring many players new to the United States, the Detroit Tigers are one of the franchises providing their players with an education in English.

Much like he would on the mound in his starts, Mendoza takes charge in the classroom.

Outgoing, friendly and further along in his understanding of English, Mendoza encourages his teammates in a situation that can be frightening for some.

“When you’re Latin, you don’t know English, so you’re afraid to speak to somebody,” Mendoza said. “You don’t like to make mistakes and that’s the reason people don’t learn English fast, because they’re afraid to make mistakes.”

Of those in the class, which meets as often as the schedule allows, three are from the Dominican Republic (Rayni Guichardo, Julio Rodriguez and Alexander Nunez), two are from Venezuela (Mendoza and Josue Carreno) and one is from Taiwan (Chao-Ting Tang).

Back to class

The players receive roughly 20 classes per season, as mandated by Connecticut’s Major League affiliate in Detroit. Throughout Detroit’s farm system, only the Double-A and Triple-A affiliates do not have ESOL classes, but that is predicated on the needs of those teams.

Taught by Jackie Shutsky, an adult education teacher with the city, the Tigers’ class structure encourages confidence and interaction with the players still developing language skills.

Adult education teacher Jackie Shutsky, left, leads a class which includes Connecticut Tigers Alexander Nunez, center, and Julio Rodriguez, right. (Photo courtesy the Norwich Bulletin).

There are textbooks, homework assignments and computer programs to assist in studying, as well as real-life situations in which the players can test their knowledge.

Because most of the players in the class haven’t been in a classroom setting in usually a few years before turning pro, class management is sometimes the biggest challenge. But so is the players’ tendency to speak their native language.

“That is difficult, they really fall back on it when they don’t understand something or when they’re asking each other something,” Shutsky said. “And it’s hard because they are a team and they’re so ingrained. It’s that piece (that) is so different than the classroom. In the classroom I can say, ‘No Spanish, only English.’ Here, they are such a team.”

Detroit Tigers International Player Programs Coordinator Sharon Lockwood oversees the classes throughout Detroit’s organization. She spent the previous decade in a similar capacity with the Cleveland Indians.

She mentions current big leaguers such as Victor Martinez, Fausto Carmona, Ramon Santiago and Jhonny Peralta as just a few who have benefited from these classes.

Star student

But it is Mendoza who she raves about.

“He just loves American things — the music, he loves shopping, communicating; he’s a communicator,” she said. “With guys like that, they’re naturally going to try to make that step.”

A year ago, Mendoza was hesitant to participate in English interviews, often asking for help. Now it is he who helps.

When Carreno speaks to the press, he seeks out Mendoza for assistance.

He knows how difficult it can be to work on baseball and English. The key, Mendoza said, is practice.

“You have to try to speak with coaches and teammates, so you have to practice your English every day,” said Mendoza, who added that verbs and pronunciation are his biggest hurdles.

In a recent class at the Yard Bar and Grill on the second floor of the stadium, the players sit around a table, discussing their homework assignment before moving on to the next lesson.

On this occasion, the Tigers were participating in role playing. Each took joy in watching the others perform their scripted parts.

The friendly ribbing between players helps them get added practice in the new language.

For this close-knit group, any reason is a good reason to tease — in English.

Necessary skill

For Rodriguez, who recently turned 21, the classes have heightened significance.

As a catcher, Rodriguez needs to be able to convey thoughts to his coaching staff as well as that night’s pitcher.

There’s no guarantee any of those people speak Spanish, so if Rodriguez, who was recently named a New York-Penn League All-Star, wants to continue to progress, he must learn English.

He is in his second year of classes and said it has become easier.

“It’s nice to communicate with the pitcher and manager,” Rodriguez said. “So if the manager goes to the mound, the pitcher is Latin and knows no English, I translate for the pitcher.”

Rodriguez uses phone conversations and chatting with friends via the Internet to improve his English.

“I couldn’t be more proud,” Connecticut manager Howard Bushing said. “Last year, when we had Rodriguez, he could hardly speak any English. And he’s put the effort in between last year and this year. He’s doing great, he’s communicating well.”


A player’s ability to thrive while learning a difficult language, Lockwood said, has a lot to do with their character. The more outgoing and motivated a person is, the more likely they are to succeed in grasping English. The frequency in which a player has to speak English can also determine success.

Norwich Board of Education Chairperson Charlie Jaskiewicz, who attended the class, said it takes three years to learn conversational English and five for scholarly English.

As a player’s career progress, the classes aren’t tailored to what level in the minors he is at, but the individual level at which he understands English.

Beginning this season, Detroit has implemented Comprehensive Adult Student Assignment Systems testing, or CASAS, to accurately measure listening and reading comprehension.

It isn’t the only means by which Lockwood determines what level to place each player, but it provides her a guide.

As it turned out, the curriculum she chose for the Tigers is the same one used by the city.

It’s not uncommon for players to not want to attend class, but as Lockwood points out, once they get into the swing of things they see the benefits.

“I don’t know of any of them who want to go to class,” she said. “Well, there may be a couple of them who secretly want to go to class, but they wouldn’t dare admit it to their teammates. … I find that as classes go on, they are into it and the light is going on, and they’re asking questions.”

Only now they can ask in two languages instead of one.

New UConn RB D.J. Shoemate. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images).

STORRS, Conn. — High on D.J. Shoemate’s left deltoid is a tattoo of the Lion of Judah. The lion, adorned with a crown of jewels, views the horizon with an intense focus.

The Lion of Judah is held in high esteem by several religions, including Christianity and Judaism. And according to UConn’s new tailback, the tattoo’s owner is much like the lion in that both are blessed and focused.

The University of Southern California transfer began his new journey in earnest Monday when UConn opened its 2010 training camp. Because of his high profile origin, Shoemate, a junior, was the center of attention.

“It’s phenomenal,“ Shoemate said of UConn. “I really like the atmosphere as far as the work ethic, the guys getting after it day-in and day-out; they don’t take any breaks. They don’t take anything for granted. Every play, every rep — everything that they do is full speed, full go.”

He committed to USC as a 15-year-old sophomore from Servite High School in Anaheim, Calif., and chose to honor his word to then coach Pete Carroll. He arrived as a wide receiver, then moved to fullback.

The experience wasn’t what Shoemate had in mind, but he felt obligated to the program to do what was asked of him.

Used sparingly, he had two runs for two yards and two receptions for 23 yards and a touchdown with the Trojans.

“At fullback, I felt I had a lot more to offer,” he said of his time in Los Angeles. “As a player, I’m a little bit more diverse. They utilize the fullback a lot differently than other places in the nation. It just wasn’t for me.”

Even with the change of coaches from Carroll, now with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, to former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, Shoemate didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

That was until the NCAA levied punishment against the program earlier this summer. It opened the door for Shoemate to look elsewhere. He looked at Texas, Texas Christian, Boise State and North Carolina.

But it was a conversation with friend and high school teammate, Johnny McEntee, that turned his attention to UConn.

McEntee is a redshirt sophomore quarterback for the Huskies.

“I think when he came out here I think he really could see himself going here,” McEntee said. “Before, when he talked about Connecticut, he had no idea what it was. Connecticut, we don’t know where that is in California. He came and checked it out, then he realized it’s a cool place, a great program. Probably the facilities, coaches — everything. Everybody treated him well. They don’t have anything like this, from what I hear, at his school.”

Before Shoemate considered changing schools, McEntee invited him to UConn’s game at Notre Dame, a bye week for USC. That game, in which UConn rallied to win in overtime, along with McEntee’s encouragement, landed the one-time ESPN 150 prospect with the Huskies.

Coach Randy Edsall didn’t put on the full-court press. Instead, he treated Shoemate the same way he has countless others before him — by telling him to take his time and make the right decision.

“I was trying to guide him from more of a parental standpoint and just say, ‘Hey, here’s what I think you need to do,’ ” said Edsall. “Knowing that I wanted him here, but I didn’t want him here unless he felt good about being here and he knew that he could be happy being here. That’s all. It takes a mature person to figure all that out. He’s a mature person.”

Having never truly experienced the recruiting process, Shoemate did some soul searching before deciding whether he could change coasts.

Sure, he misses his family and the world he’s grown accustomed to. That includes In-N-Out Burger — the absence of which, Shoemate joked, will lead to noticeable weight loss.

“There were times when I was homesick, but you just got to get through it,” he said. “You have to realize I chose this decision, I sacrificed so much to follow my dream. I sacrificed so much to chase this game that I love so much.”

The offense run by coordinator Joe Moorhead is similar to what McEntee and Shoemate ran in high school. But what sealed the deal for the 5-foot-1, 225-pounder wasn’t the available scholarship or the opportunity to play, but his belief that his experience at UConn is going to be “for sure, it’s going to be genuine.”

Shoemate is absorbing everything his fellow running backs tell him as the team prepares for its season opener at Michigan on Sept. 4.

Starting tailback Jordan Todman said he isn’t feeling slighted by all the attention bestowed upon the new arrival, even though Shoemate has yet to produce on the field.

“It’s nice to have anybody on the team who is here to win, great competitors” said Todman, who added that he’s not worried about attention. “If he can help us win, that’s great. As for the running backs’ standpoint, we love it, we’ll take anybody in. He comes in, now he’s part of the family.”

NORWICH, Conn. — For 68 years, one of the components of Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y., was a game between two of baseball’s major league teams. But following 2008, baseball decided the scheduling of an in-season exhibition game became too troublesome to continue.

It was replaced by a game played on Father’s Day in the upstate New York hamlet that features a mix of Hall of Fame and not-so famous players.

The Connecticut Tigers will face the Tri-City ValleyCats at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y.

But since 1991, one game that’s been consistent has been the regular-season contest played between two New York-Penn League franchises.

Today, the Connecticut Tigers play host to the Tri-City ValleyCats at 1 p.m. in Cooperstown. The weekend reaches its climax Sunday with the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

“It’s amazing,” said Tigers general manager Andrew Weber. Connecticut’s game with Tri-City on Friday was postponed by rain to July 31. “From my standpoint, as a player, I would have dreamed of playing there. … With it being induction weekend, that’s ultimately what every guy on that field wants — is to end a career inducted into the Hall of Fame.”

The Tigers, or at least the franchise that was based in Oneonta, N.Y., had been associated with the game since its inception 19 years ago. Oneonta, then the team closest to Doubleday Field, was the home team. Since the team relocated to Norwich last spring after the schedule was produced, the Tigers kept their place in the game.

Weber said team owner E. Miles Prentice wants to keep Connecticut involved in the tradition of the game as long as the league, the Hall of Fame or Minor League Baseball don’t say otherwise.

“I can tell you, I doubt other teams will tell you they’ll voluntarily give up a Saturday home game to play there,” Weber said.

It’s uncertain whether the team will continue its participation, but Connecticut is doing everything it can to take advantage of the rare opportunity to play in Cooperstown.

For $40 or $50 (depending upon age), the team sold packages that included a seat on a chartered bus, a ticket to the game, admission to the Hall of Fame and a bagged lunch from Panera Bread. The offering was a success; Weber said every seat on the bus was sold, and that he hopes the team can send two buses next year.

Tigers manager Howard Bushong and three of his players were part of last season’s game with the ValleyCats.

“Playing in that stadium, playing in that game, makes you appreciate where you are and the opportunities that you have,” Bushong said. “Last year’s game is something I’ll never forget. I hope this year’s game is the same thing.”

With such a unique moment at hand, Bushong plans to give his players advice to cherish the opportunity while playing the game.

And it’s pretty neat to play before nearly 10,000 fans — including Hall of Famers — at the birthplace of baseball. Not that the players, most of who are in the first years of their careers, needed any more pressure.

It’s not unusual either to see players play a little harder and with a little more emotion.

“It’s like a dream for a player to play there,” said Tigers pitcher Clemente Mendoza. “Everyone wants to play there. It’s a really good experience.”

Bushong said the fans at the game are different than at any other game. No matter what uniform a player has on, they’ll cheer for him. It is truly a celebration of baseball.

“They just cheer to watch kids play,” he said. “Every time I have the opportunity — and I’ve been to Cooperstown four times — every time has been special. It gives me chills every time I go.”

If there’s a drawback in the experience it’s that with games the next day, both Connecticut (at Lowell) and Tri-City (at Vermont) don’t have a chance to explore the Hall of Fame. Even if the schedule was amended to give the teams time to check out the exhibits, finding enough hotel rooms for 70 to 80 people on induction weekend is close to impossible.

One possible solution would be to have Connecticut play at Tri-City the night before or the day after the game in Cooperstown.

Regardless of the logistics, the Tigers’ manager hopes the players appreciate the sojourn, especially because some of them are from other countries and may never have the chance to return.

Said Bushong: “I always hope it means as much to them as it does to me.”

NORWICH, Conn. — Tigers assistant general manager C.J. Knudsen recalls working for the “worst team in all of professional baseball” in 2003.

That summer, Knudsen — then the general manager for the Vermont Expos — sent out a press release declaring he would sleep in the team’s dugout until the team won a game. With a 19-56 record, wins were hard to come by.

The team was so bad — and apparently so was Knudsen’s fortunes — that after each loss another front office member joined him in what become known as a Slump-er Party. Fans arrived at Centennial Field dressed in pajamas in support of the sleep-out.

“Centennial Field is the oldest ballpark in minor league baseball,” Knudsen said Wednesday before the Tigers’ game with Vermont was postponed by rain. “I tried not to think about the cemetery in right field or the light towers that are creaking in the wind and all the trash and everything that was blowing around in the wind after a game.

“That was night No. 1. About 10 minutes into my sleep, I got startled and I woke up. … There was a large skunk running across the front of the dugout. Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep that night.”

Seven days and a few rainy nights later, Knudsen was able to sleep in his own bed.

It’s a time Knudsen reflects upon fondly, so it’s hard to fault him if these past few days have been emotional. With Connecticut hosting Vermont, a series that wraps up tonight at Dodd Stadium with a doubleheader beginning at 6:05 p.m., Knudsen is having a family reunion of sorts.

Knudsen interned with Vermont in 1995, and spent the first three weeks of his tenure driving around Vermont to hand out pocket schedules.

No one could have predicted he would spend 14 years with the franchise before departing in November. From his days attending games in his Little League uniform to becoming the team’s general manager, the Lake Monsters are never far from Knudsen’s heart.

“Toughest decision of my life,” he said of leaving the franchise. “I started out with them and that was my first full-time job. Blood, sweat and tears went into Centennial Field. I grew up in the Vermont area (Jonesville), so to be able to work for the minor league baseball team in the area that I grew up in was just awesome.”

Calling the experience of facing Vermont “very strange,” Knudsen is appreciating the chance to reconnect with familiar faces.

“There’s a certain excitement, a certain energy for me,” Knudsen said of welcoming his former team into town.

Mike Sullivan, Vermont’s long-time team bus driver, remembers Knudsen fondly.

“He’s always been very nice, pleasant,” Sullivan said. “He’s always looking out for the players and the fans — especially the fans. That’s the No. 1 thing in baseball, the fans.”

NORWICH, Conn. — Put anyone, let alone a 22-year-old, into a foreign country with a language barrier and no family and it would be safe to say it would make for a difficult challenge.

Chao-Ting Tang is not here to learn about Colonial New England; nor is he planning on taking in the autumnal colors. Even with the ever-growing diversity in eastern Connecticut, Tang is not a tourist.

Here from Taiwan for his job as a professional baseball player, Tang is hoping that his time with the Connecticut Tigers will lead to bigger and better things.

Unlike most of his peers, Tang’s path to the major leagues requires a few extra hurdles. He doesn’t speak English and the transient nature of life in the minor leagues usually doesn’t allow too much time to become acclimated with any one location.

So far the adjustment to Norwich has gone smoothly.

“It’s really not that difficult because the host family is really nice and they’ve taken care of me really well,“ Tang said through his interpreter, Kenny Chang.

An undrafted free agent, Tang signed with the Detroit Tigers in April 2008. While there has been a steady influx of baseball talent from Asia over the past two decades, Tang’s signing is of particular significance. He is the first Taiwanese player signed by the Tigers.

There isn’t a great track record of Taiwanese players in professional baseball. Washington and former Yankees pitcher Chien-Ming Wang might be the best known. Dodgers pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo became the nation’s first All-Star this week.

Fortunately, the language of baseball translates easily on the field — even if the approach isn’t the same.

“In Taiwan, players treat this more like a job, as a profession,” Tang said. “Versus here, it seems like a lot of players treat it like a hobby or an interest.”

When he signed with the Tigers, Tang was widely considered the top amateur player in Taiwan.

“I’ve seen quite a bit of improvement since Year One,” Tang said. “I feel that the experience in pro baseball has shown me different techniques. It’s an eye opener.”

The eye opening doesn’t belong to Tang alone.

Bob Tobin welcomed Tang into his home as a volunteer host family.

“It’s been fabulous, no other word could describe it better,” said Tobin of opening his home to Tang. “He’s just a remarkable young guy.

“He’s just a great guy and has a tremendous work ethic about his profession.”

Tang’s become part of the family.

He’s taken Tobin’s 13-year-old son Ryan under his wing in a big brother-little brother relationship. When the Tigers are home, Tang will play basketball with the younger Tobin and pass along baseball tips. And when they go out for Chinese food, Tang does the ordering.

There are occasions when words get in the way, but non-verbal communication bridges that gap. And just in case that doesn’t work, Tang carries a electronic translator or the Tobins can text Chang to help troubleshoot.

“He’s a very, very easy going guy,” Bob Tobin said. “We drove him up to the house, he had a big smile on his face (and) said, ‘I like.’ … It’s been a completely positive experience.”

Helping hand

For its part, the Detroit organization does what it can to help ease its players’ transition to America.

With the exception of its Triple- and Double-A affiliates, the Tigers offer English-language classes in the minor league system. Classes are held twice a week, usually Monday and Wednesday during homestands, and help the players learn the language.

Sharon Lockwood is Detroit’s coordinator of international player programs. Based out of Lakeland, Fla., Lockwood is on call to handle any crisis that may arise.

Tang presented a different challenge than most. The vast majority of players who do not speak English communicate in Spanish. Few coaches or other personnel speak Mandarin Chinese.

When he played for West Michigan last season, which is located outside of Grand Rapids, Mich., Tang struggled with the early season cold. That’s exactly the sort of thing Lockwood keeps an eye out for.

“We’ve been lucky,” she said of language or cultural issues. “Most of it is the players’ hesitancy to ask for help because either they’re afraid to speak or they’re afraid they’ll get in trouble. They don’t know who to speak to, they don’t know procedures or culture. They catch on pretty quickly.”

On the field

Tang may be an outfielder, but looks up to Phillies second baseman Chase Utley as someone he would like to model himself after.

He first caught people’s attention when playing in the 2006 high school All-America game.

Over his first two minor league seasons, Tang had some mixed results. In his first year, he hit .222 with the Gulf Coast Tigers over 38 games. He began 2009 in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .207 and raising his on-base percentage by nearly 100 points in 22 games. That earned him a promotion to Single-A West Michigan, where Tang struggled against the tougher competition.

Through a 21-game sample, Tang’s batting average dropped to .197. It didn’t help matters that a large portion of his season was lost after he sustained facial fractures when he was hit by a relay throw on an attempted double play.

The 5-foot-11, 176-pound Tang began this season with High-A Lakeland of the Florida State League and saw poor results. A .209 average and slugging and on-base percentages below .300 were a bad sign. However, Tang appears to be finding his groove with Connecticut.

Playing mostly as a reserve, the left-handed hitter was hitting at a .300 clip through his first 13 games and most of his other statistics project to be at or near his career highs.

“I’m sure there are times when it’s difficult, but he’s a pretty smart kid,” Tigers manager Howard Bushong said. “I think he understands what we’re trying to get out of him. He plays as hard as anybody and usually takes advantage of it, the opportunities that he gets. He’s done a good job for us all the way around; he’s been fairly steady.”

Location is everything. It’s a simple rule when starting a business.

Or when moving one.

With the announcement that LeBron James will end world hunger, childhood obesity and forge peace in the Middle East, the fact that word will come from the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, Conn., should mean little.

It’s not because ESPN, which is broadcasting the highly anticipated announcement, is in Connecticut. Greenwich and the network’s home in Bristol are further apart than Greenwich is to the Nets’ home arena in Newark.

It also doesn’t mean that James won’t stay home and continue playing for the Cavs. So why not just make the announcement there?

Or in South Beach if he’s to join Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh?

Yes, the announcement will take place miles from New York and even closer to the Knicks’ training facility, but what many are overlooking as they read tea leaves is that no matter who James ultimately signs with — Cleveland, Chicago, New Jersey, New York or Miami — he was going to be in New York anyway.

Friend and Denver star Carmello Anthony is getting married this weekend and James is a guest.

If new Knick Amare Stoudemire has his way, this won’t be the last time Anthony, scheduled for free agency next summer, and James are in New York together.

But maybe, just maybe James is looking to relocate his business to the biggest market possible. In that case, location is everything.

NORWICH, Conn. — The sights and smells are still vivid to Travis Fryman. It’s been 15 years since he last got a whiff of the tobacco pipe smoked by legendary manager Sparky Anderson.

Whether it’s Anderson’s pipe, or his traditional pre-game bowl of soup with a Spam sandwich, every moment with the Hall of Fame skipper is memorable to Fryman, the manager of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.

“Every day with Sparky Anderson was a thrill for me,” the Kentucky native said. “I grew up a Reds fan, like most people my age, the Big Red Machine. … To get to play for Sparky Anderson was the second-best thing to playing for the Reds in my mind.”

Former Tiger and Indian Travis Fryman is managing in Cleveland's farm system

Being around the likes of Anderson or teammates such as Alan Trammell, who helped teach Fryman the ropes in the majors, shaped who he would become. Fryman learned from Anderson’s patience — something the Scrappers’ skipper wasn’t known for as a player — and from his teammates’ willingness to pull him aside as soon as they felt words were necessary. That real-time guidance is something he hopes to share with his players.

It’s certainly rubbed off on those outside of the Indians’ farm system.

Connecticut Tigers catcher Eric Roof, who is from Paducah, Ky., grew up learning the lore of Fryman. Roof, whose father and uncle played in the majors, got to know Fryman.

Roof’s father, Gene, was Detroit’s first base coach from 1992-95.

“Travis is a great dude,” Eric Roof said. “I talked him last year because we played against him last year. Our family and his family still exchange Christmas cards every year. He’s even come down to Paducah to give a camp for my dad and his brother.

“I still remember that. That was back in 1994, so I was only eight years old. Growing up I was probably the biggest Travis Fryman fan you could think of.”

Great career

Fryman played 14 years in the majors, the first nine with Connecticut’s parent club, Detroit, before spending five seasons with Cleveland. The five-time All-Star was a .274 hitter with 223 home runs and 1,022 RBIs. He was also a Gold Glove winner at third base in 2000. Fryman’s first major league hit was a three-run homer against Kansas City’s Jeff Montgomery.

In his second season at the helm of the Scrappers, Fryman wasn’t sure if he wanted to get into managing. But after serving as a spring training instructor for the Indians, he decided to give managing a short-season team a try.

The schedule works out perfectly with his desire to spend as much time at home with his wife and three sons.

“It’s a way for me to have maximum impact on the game and minimum impact on my home life,” he said. “The half-season job is really a perfect fit for what I’m comfortable with and what my family is comfortable with at this point in time.”

In addition to managing Mahoning Valley, Fryman is also Cleveland’s primary organizational infield instructor and oversees infielders in the fall instructional league.

Despite his success on Lake Erie and his present allegiance, whenever Fryman thinks baseball he goes back to the organization that drafted him.

“When I dream or think about baseball, it’s always in a Tiger uniform,” he said. “I can’t really explain that — it just always is. In my mind’s eye, that’s what I see myself in. I love the Indians organization, proud to be associated with it, it’s a great place to work. But in my mind, I always had a Tigers uniform on.”