Interpreters a luxury Latinos not afforded
Jun. 12, 2005 12:00 AM
OAKLAND - When Keiichi Yabu and Brad Fischer argued about string cheese while
sitting in the clubhouse before a game, they had a former anthropology
professor, Andy Painter, with them to translate every word.
"You're always eating cheese. Is cheese good for you?" Yabu said in Japanese,
smiling as Painter quickly put the pitcher's words in English for Oakland's
first base coach.
"It's better than sushi!" Fischer barked back.
Engaging in such casual conversation is an important step for foreign players
who come to the majors, but it's a lopsided luxury - while Japanese players have
interpreters to help them with everything from getting a driver's license to
communicating with teammates and coaches, most Latin Americans are left to fend
Fair or not, there are just a handful of Japanese players in the big leagues,
all of whom get translating support if needed, while hundreds of players from
Spanish-speaking countries must rely on each another to figure things out.
"You look at some of these kids, they're 18, 19 years old, they're scared to
death," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "They're away from home probably
for the first time. They're in a foreign country. Just because we like
hamburgers doesn't mean they do. It's very unfair. I think we have a
responsibility to help them."
Of 829 major league players on Opening Day rosters and disabled lists, 23.5
percent were born in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela or
Cuba, according to the commissioner's office. Nearly 40 percent of minor league
players are from those five places.
The New York Yankees provide a full-time interpreter for Japanese outfielder
Hideki Matsui, and when Kaz Matsui signed with the New York Mets before last
season he not only insisted on having an interpreter for himself, but one for
his wife as well.
The Yankees also hired a translator for Cubans Orlando Hernandez and Jose
Contreras when they were with the team. But most organizations can't spend as
freely as the New York teams. Last year's AL MVP, Angels right fielder Vladimir
Guerrero, depends on the club's Spanish radio color analyst, Jose Mota, to help
him through interviews.
Japanese players get more translation help for several reasons. One is that
their language is completely foreign to most people in the major leagues. The
other is the clout they've earned along their very different route to the
The Seattle Mariners paid $13 million to the Orix Blue Wave for the rights to
Ichiro Suzuki, the first Japanese position player to play every day in the
majors after being a seven-time batting champion in his native country.
Many of the teams are trying to make their Spanish-speaking players' transitions
smoother by sponsoring academies in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere that
offer English training and guidance about cultural
Some teams also organize activities and teaching sessions at spring training
that deal with everything from how to use a bank to the appropriate tipping
standards at a restaurant.
Still, Boston's David Ortiz and others in the majors have said Hispanic players
sometimes either misunderstand certain memos or miss messages altogether.