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By JANIE McCAULEY
AP Baseball Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - Yoenis Cespedes sat at an Oakland clubhouse table with teammate Jemile Weeks for a serious pregame study session, pen and paper in hand - no cards or checkers for these two.
Cespedes is using the Spanish-speaking infielder as an English tutor when he needs a little extra assistance.
"He called me over there," Weeks said. "He knows I know a little bit. If I can lend a helping hand, I will.
The 26-year-old Cespedes signed a $36 million, four-year deal this spring in Oakland with a chance to start his career in the big leagues. The A's outbid teams like the Miami Marlins to land the prized center fielder, who starred for his Caribbean homeland in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Cespedes is gaining confidence each day, on the field and off it. He said Friday he is tentatively planning his first interview in English for July.
"Every day, I'm feeling better," he said in Spanish. "I'm a smart guy (learning the language)."
He has seemed unfazed by the language barrier. Manager Bob Melvin has repeatedly praised Cespedes for his efforts to get acclimated in a hurry in all phases following such a huge lifestyle change.
Cespedes initially had been learning an estimated two words a day, but he insists that number has grown significantly - "mas," more - as he becomes more and more comfortable attempting to speak.
"Sooner," quipped Ariel Prieto, the former A's pitcher who was called off his minor league coaching assignment this year to be Cespedes' interpreter and mentor as he adjusts to a drastically different life in the United States.
Weeks is thrilled to hear Cespedes might start more regularly speaking in English come summer.
"I guess he's working hard. He's ready. Don't count on me," Weeks said, chuckling.
Each day, the rookie center fielder and Cuban defector is showing he is serious about becoming as comfortable as he can in his new culture pronto - in short order.
He's done OK at the plate, too. Cespedes hit a three-run homer for Oakland in a 6-0 win over the Angels on Wednesday night, giving him a team-leading 12 RBIs in his first 12 games.
After working on the alphabet and some new phrases Friday, Cespedes stood up and said, in Spanish this time, that he was headed to ask outfielder Coco Crisp "How are you feeling?" as Crisp had been fighting a flu bug.
Cespedes wanted to learn "dress shirt" - or "camisa formal." That was a tricky one for Weeks, who took two years of Spanish in high school growing up in Florida and learned more while playing college ball at Miami.
He also has spent time in Latin American communities. Several times on Oakland's recent road trip, Cespedes approached Weeks for a little extra help. There hasn't been one particular word Weeks has taught his rookie teammate that he is most proud of so far. Weeks' strong suit is reading Spanish, so that is helpful for Cespedes as they study.
"He's doing a good job putting the effort in," Weeks said. "He knows a few phrases. It's a process. I feel good that he wants to come to me and ask for help. He knows what he wants to work on and he'll write it down.
"I never thought I'd be doing this. It comes with the territory. We've got a guy from Cuba who hasn't been in this culture."