To celebrate the doctrine of vocation and as a build up to Labor Day, let us consider Interesting Jobs. Here is one: Major league baseball interpreter.
An interpreter’s job can be consuming, from taking phone calls from a confused player in a grocery store aisle to helping a player’s wife get a driver’s license.
“It’s one thing to be bilingual,” says [Kenji] Nimura, who is unique in the major leagues and especially valuable because he’s fluent in English, Japanese and Spanish. “It’s another to be bicultural.”
That’s why the role has grown as quickly as the Asian influence in the majors, where this year’s 12 Japanese players, three Taiwanese and two South Koreans usually are accompanied by an interpreter.
And note that the correct word is interpreter, not translator. Word-for-word substitutions seldom work between English and the Asian languages.
“If I give a direct translation, it will sound vague,” says Nimura, born in Japan but raised in Los Angeles. “I cheat a little. It’s like a scene in Lost in Translation. As long as I get the meaning right.”
Ever wonder why the translated answer often seems much shorter than the original answer?
“American players follow the formula,” Nimura says. “Say what you’re going to say, say it, say what you said. In Japan, they don’t give you an answer until the end.” . . .
Nowhere do the cultural differences show up more than in trying to interpret what goes on in the clubhouse.
The hazing Kuroda received is unheard of in Japan. So are the moments like the day in spring 2009 that Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones wanted to pass a message to new pitcher Kenshin Kawakami.
“Tell him, I said, (expletive)’ ” a grinning Jones said to interpreter Daichi Takasue, then a 21-year-old fresh out of the University of California-Santa Barbara, where he had been trained specifically for moments like this.
Al Ferrer, the former longtime coach at UCSB who now trains and supplies interpreters armed with the knowledge to deal with coaches and game situations, laughs when he remembers Takasue relating the incident.
“He told me, ‘I bowed my head and said Mr. Jones told me to say (expletive)’ ” Ferrer says. “Ragging is not a part of their culture.”
Nor is swearing, something Guillen discovered during one of his colorful clubhouse speeches when Japanese pitcher Shingo Takatsu was on the roster.
“I saw the translator was quiet,” Guillen says. “I’m screaming to him, ‘Make sure you tell him what I say.’ The (interpreter) says, ‘We don’t have those kinds of words in Japan.’ “
What are some other Interesting Jobs? Do any of you have one?