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Prof publishes baseball dictionary

Friday, May 29, 2009

Retired professor Jim O'Neill, author of a Spanish-English baseball dictionary

Jim O'Neill, emeritus professor of foreign languages and literature, has authored a Spanish-English baseball dictionary.

Retired professor Jim O'Neill, author of a Spanish-English baseball dictionary A new photo of Jim O'Neill's Spanish-English baseball dictionary 

ST. CLOUD, Minn. - A childhood spent watching the Chicago White Sox. A college love affair with the Spanish language. A life-long acquisitive obsession with words.

These ingredients fed a nearly two-decade habit that blossomed this month into a Spanish-English baseball dictionary.

"Bilingual Baseball Dictionary" is the work of Jim O'Neill, 73, emeritus professor of foreign languages and literature.

O'Neill began collecting Spanish baseball terms during a fall section of Spanish 311, hoping to tie into the enthusiasm surrounding the World Series. Over the next 17 years he built a collection of words and phrases in an electronic spreadsheet.

Then two years ago a friend challenged O'Neill to publish a dictionary. The friend, cardiologist and Central Minnesota Heart Center founder John Mahowald, gently suggested O'Neill was at risk of becoming the literary equivalent of the man who collected the world's largest ball of twine.

O'Neill began collecting words in earnest, reading the sports pages of eight Spanish-language newspapers and listening to taped, Spanish-language radio broadcasts of baseball games. With the painstaking proofreading assistance of friends, the book began to take shape.

What emerged is a 344-page, 7,500-definition book that codifies the rich and sometimes perplexing idioms of baseball, including five pages of variations on the phrase "hit a home run."

A poor hitter is "an out dressed like a ballplayer," or es un out vestido de pelotero.

A drag bunt is toque de plancha or, roughly, "touch of iron." The fast, deft touch required to test if an iron is ready to press clothes approximates the technique required to bunt oneself to first base, according to O"Neill.

"I'm just fascinated by baseball language in Spanish," O'Neill said.

O'Neil was indoctrinated into baseball at an early age. His father, a Chicago firefighter, enjoyed free access to White Sox games for himself and family as an off-duty fireguard. O'Neill saw the greats of that era play live at Comiskey Park, including an aging Joe DiMaggio and a young Mickey Mantle.

"I don't like baseball, but my Dad loved it,' said O'Neill, who lives in St. Cloud. 

The love of Spanish came later in life. As an undergraduate at St. Thomas College, St. Paul, a desperate O'Neill needed credits to compensate for an unsuccessful experience in a math class. He enrolled in a Spanish class and was enthralled. 

He taught the language 42 years, including 35 at St. Cloud State, retiring a full professor in 1999. 

O'Neill is negotiating with a distribution company that can get the $19.95 dictionary on bookstore shelves and online sites such as Amazon.com.

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