On Wednesday night in the bowels of Fenway Park, the New York Yankees’ starting pitcher, Michael Piñeda, answered a battery of questions from reporters about his ejection for having daubed pine tar on his neck in order to try to get a better grip on the ball.
The native of the Dominican Republic faced the cameras and spoke into the microphones by himself, without an interpreter, and his teammate Carlos Beltrán isn’t at all happy about that.
“Wasn’t Roman there?” Beltrán asked Jorge Castillo, a sportswriter for the Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey on Thursday, referring to the Yankees’ bullpen catcher, Roman Rodríguez, who is Venezuelan and often translates for the Latin American players on the team.
Told by Castillo that Rodríguez had offered to translate for Piñeda but was waved off, Beltrán became upset.
“It’s a problem, of course, because he can’t express himself the way he wants to,” Beltrán told Castillo.
Piñeda has been declining Rodríguez’s services in order to help him improve his English. Which is admirable, but looking at the raw video, it is clear that there were a number of questions that Piñeda failed to understand but attempted to answer anyway.
The pitcher was asked twice on Wednesday night if any of the Yankee staff had warned him about the penalty for using pine tar. Both times he answered no, possibly thinking that he was being asked if anybody else on the team had known that he was going to use the pine tar.
According to Castillo, a Yankee official subsequently told reporters that when Piñeda was asked the same question in Spanish he answered that both manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild had spoken to him about the potential consequences.
“I think Michael did a tremendous job last night, standing up in front of you and not necessarily maybe using an interpreter and hiding behind an interpreter or doing anything like that,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters, possibly missing the point.
Despite the fact that 22.6 percent of the players on Opening Day rosters were Latins, teams are not expected or obligated to employ Spanish translators. Normally a coach or player will do the job pro bono and as the schedule and situation allow.
There are about a dozen Japanese players in the majors, but, on the Yankees at least, all of them—Ichiro Suzuki, Hiroki Kuroda, and Masahiro Tanaka—have their own translator assigned to them.
Beltrán grew up in Puerto Rico, where English is more common than in other Latin cradles of baseball like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Even so, he told Castillo that he didn’t feel totally at ease conversing in English until a few years into his big-league career.
Which is one reason that the baseball academy Beltrán founded in Puerto Rico includes an English-language curriculum. But, the outfielder stressed, there is so much more that Major League Baseball could do.
“In the big leagues, we aren’t given an interpreter,” Beltrán told Castillo, adding that he thinks each team should carry at least one Spanish interpreter.
“I understand that it’s also on the player to find help if he doesn’t feel he can express himself in the way he wishes to,” Beltrán said. “At the same time, he needs to make sure he understands the questions that are being asked 100 percent and that he also has the help so he could express himself the way wants to.”