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Cubs among teams using on-field interpreter to bridge language barriers

Kyuji FujikawDioner Navarro

Kyuji Fujikawa, Dioner Navarro

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The facts: 7:05 p.m., CSN, 720-AM.

The pitchers: Derek Holland
(0-1, 2.40 ERA) vs. Travis Wood (1-0, 1.46).


Wednesday: 7:05 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM. Justin Grimm (0-0, 4.50) vs. Carlos Villanueva
(0-0, 0.64).

Thursday: 1:20 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM. Alexi Ogando (2-0, 1.08) vs. Jeff Samardzija (1-2, 2.75).

Updated: May 17, 2013 6:30AM

Baseball has its own language, but the game is getting some help of a more human kind this season.

Interpreters are being allowed to come to the mound to help managers and coaches communicate with their non-English-speaking pitchers. The rule applies to
several languages, but Japanese was the primary language behind the change.

Japanese baseball long has
allowed interpreters for non-Japanese-speaking players. Having the same option in the United States is a plus for Cubs manager Dale
Sveum, who has two Japanese
relievers on his roster in Kyuji
Fujikawa and Hisanori Takahashi.

‘‘It probably takes a little extra time on the mound, but you do need to have that,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘Taki understands a little more [English]. But say a bunt situation comes up. You have to go to the mound to explain the situation and make sure everyone is on the same page with what’s going on.

‘‘If [pitching coach Chris Bosio] wants to go out and talk about how to get the hitter out if he’s new or a pinch hitter, you can get that straight.’’’

Such help wasn’t allowed for Spanish-speaking pitchers in the past, but Cubs catcher Welington Castillo, who is from the Dominican Republic, sees a reason why.

‘‘When most of us signed, we were young and went to the
minor leagues, and they have English classes for you,’’ said Castillo, 25, who signed with the Cubs in 2004. ‘‘You might spend five years in the minor leagues, so you should know some English by the time you get [to the majors]. These pitchers sign contracts to be at the major-league level right away, so they don’t know the language.’’

Takahashi, who has been in the majors since 2010 with the New York Mets and Los Angeles
Angels, has a working command of English but likes the new policy. It has mattered more to Fujikawa, who is aided by interpreter Ryo Shinkawa.

Shinkawa came to the Cubs after Fujikawa signed a two-year contract with the team in December. He previously had worked in the front offices of the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and
Minnesota Twins. He translates during interviews with the English-speaking media and spends time in the bullpen with the Japanese pitchers during games before they might be called in.

But his work goes well beyond that, Bosio said.

‘‘Ryo has taken our scouting reports and translated them into Japanese, so a lot of stuff is in place before the game,’’ Bosio said. ‘‘We’ve tried to think of everything we can to make those guys feel comfortable. When Dale goes out and makes a pitching change, we try to give [Shinkawa] as much
information as we can. Since they’re both relievers, [bullpen coach] Lester Strode is down there with Ryo, so the information is given to them again. So it’s before the series, before the game, during the game and before they actually throw a pitch. It’s pretty in-depth and tedious.

‘‘But they’ve adapted well. They’re very conscientious and meticulous. They genuinely care about the scouting reports. It’s been interesting to watch how these guys have evolved since the first couple of days of spring training. They’re true professionals, and they’re trying to do everything they can — from our throwing programs to the conditioning — because everything is different for them from Japan.’’

Bosio admitted it has been a new education for him, too.

‘‘No question,’’ he said. ‘‘It really makes you not only help them, but it makes you go the extra mile with the other guys. Thus far, I think it’s helped in our overall preparation.’’

Castillo said he likes having the interpreter available.

‘‘It helps because you must be on the same page as the pitcher and understand,’’ he said. ‘‘Ryo tells him what we need to do.’’

Fujikawa is picking up English well, Castillo said.

‘‘He knows a lot for the short time he’s been here,’’ he said. ‘‘He’s not afraid to speak. He’s a happy guy around his teammates, and that helps his English.’’

The same is true in reverse.

‘‘I have learned some Japanese,’’ Bosio said. ‘‘It’s like my Spanglish.’’

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