Interpreters a luxury Latinos not afforded
Associated Press
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 for themselves.

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 majors.

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.