His childhood dream turned into a career with the Chicago White Sox
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
When Billy Russo was a little boy growing up in Venezuela, he dreamed of playing for the Chicago White Sox. He wound up being a sports writer, but he ended up with the White Sox anyway as the team interpreter for many people with the Sox who are from Spanish-speaking countries. Billy Russo of the White Sox joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.
BILLY RUSSO: Thanks for having me, Scott.
SIMON: Tell us about your childhood adoration for the White Sox.
RUSSO: (Laughter) Yeah, it all start when I was probably 8 years old.
RUSSO: You know, by that time, the White Sox were a very good team. You know, they had Ozzie Guillen, Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas.
RUSSO: A couple of years later, they also had Wilson Alvarez. And then, you know, Wilson threw a no-hitter against Baltimore.
RUSSO: Yeah, that was a very big deal in Venezuela because that was the first no-hitter for a Venezuelan pitcher in the MLB.
SIMON: I mean, we should explain. The relationship between Venezuela and the White Sox runs all the way back to Luis Aparicio.
RUSSO: Correct. And even, you know, way back there, Alfonso Chico Carrasquel was the first Venezuelan player who played for the White Sox.
SIMON: Yeah. Well, tell us about the job of being an interpreter. What kind of conversations do you wind up interpreting for players and for managers and coaches?
RUSSO: A lot of conversation. I mean, the job is just to be there and then to help the players in whatever need they have especially with the language.
RUSSO: It can be from injury-related to, you know, a family matter. If something happened with a pipe in their apartment, they call you. And then you have to make the connection with the landlord. Hey, you know, this is happening or - yeah, yeah. That's how it is.
SIMON: And about a third of the White Sox players are Spanish-speaking?
RUSSO: Yeah, around that. We used to have more. It used to be around 50% a couple years back. Probably now, it's around 30, 40.
SIMON: Mmm hmm. I can't imagine what it must be like to be in the major leagues, to be many miles away from home, and to not really speak the language that surrounds you. That must be a lot of tension, a lot of pressure on these great young athletes.
RUSSO: It definitely is. Sometimes, you can feel overwhelmed.
RUSSO: And - you know, and you have to deal with it.
SIMON: And they talk to you about what's overwhelming.
RUSSO: Yes. Yeah, they do. You know, in this position, it's also important to have their trust. Because if they don't feel comfortable around you, if they don't trust you, then how are they going to be able to speak through you? You know, there are stuff that they have to - they have to communicate their private stuff, their personal stuff. And then in order for them to do that, you know, you have to gain their respect and their trust.
SIMON: Forgive me, Mr. Russo. Baseball players can use some colorful language...
RUSSO: Yes (laughter).
SIMON: ...If you know what I mean. Do you ever get asked to translate that?
RUSSO: Nobody has asked me because I just do it, and...
SIMON: Really? Yeah.
RUSSO: Yeah, I mean, and that's one of the things. In this job, if you are not communicating what the player really wants to say or is saying or the player's emotion in what he's telling, then generally (ph), I think you're not doing a fair job.
RUSSO: And that's a point of honor for me. I try to not add or take anything from what the players are saying.
SIMON: Mr. Russo, has any Spanish-speaking player in the White Sox ever come to you and said, Billy, how come they won't let me put ketchup on my hot dog?
RUSSO: (Laughter) No, no. No, they haven't (laughter).
SIMON: As we speak, the Sox are playing .500 ball. But they're just four games out of first place. You excited for the second half of the season?
RUSSO: I think we are, and everybody have to be. I mean, right now, we are just missing Luis Robert. Once he's back, it's going to be the first time in this season that our full team...
RUSSO: ...Is going to be healthy and playing together - the first time. How crazy that sounds, huh?
SIMON: Billy Russo is the Spanish-language interpreter for the Chicago White Sox. Thanks so much for being with us, and have a great season. Lots of luck.
RUSSO: Thanks for having me, and I appreciate your invitation.
(SOUNDBITE OF CULTURA PROFETICA SONG, "LOVE AND HAPPINESS")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.