While it’s the players that everyone focuses on during the heated excitement of a professional baseball game, one must not forget that this wouldn’t be possible without nonstop efforts by a small army of support personnel. At Brothers Baseball Club, this behind-the-scenes support team includes a small group whose jobs are absolutely critical to success—the team interpreters. Currently, there are four full-time interpreters on the staff, one each assigned to Team Manager Scott Budner, Batting Coach Terry Alexander and Pitching Coach John Foster, with another working with the team’s three foreign players. Alexander’s interpreter is Fielder Kuo, who has assisted the batting coach over the past year and, during the year prior, worked with Alexander’s predecessor, Jim Presley. Despite the demands of a job that sees him shadowing Alexander all week long during and in between games, Kuo handles his responsibilities with confidence.
The Taipei native had no idea that his life would take such a course when he entered Chinese Culture University as an English major freshman. A physical education class professor who also served as pitching coach for the university team knew the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association (CTBA) international affairs manager. When the CTBA needed an interpreter for a 2014 international tournament in Taichung, the professor asked Kuo if he could help. A baseball fan, Kuo agreed and ended up working in this part-time role throughout his college years.
“To be truthful, I didn’t expect to become an interpreter as a college freshman. I didn’t have this much confidence even though I majored in English. But once I tried it again and again, I learned a lot of things,” he says, adding that some interpretation classes helped boost his English writing and speaking skills and confidence. “I made my mind up to be an interpreter by my sophomore year.”
After graduation, he saw that Brothers had an open team interpreter position and got his first full-time job. Two years in this role and four college years of experience have seen his skills improve tremendously, including familiarity with American baseball/sports slang and expressions like a “jimmy jack” (3-run homer), a pitcher with a “juicy arm” (fast pitching arm) or “this game is wrapped” (a sure win). As a full-time part of the team he handles two-way translation during training, meetings, games and elsewhere, as well as the compilation of hitter game-statistic charts for Alexander. “I get on the team bus around 1 p.m. and get home around 11 or 12 o’clock. If I have to translate a post-game report, that’s another hour of work after that,” he says, adding that he also regularly assists Alexander and his family with non-baseball matters, whether it’s showing them around Taichung or helping when someone gets sick.
“They treat you as their family so you want to help. As an interpreter, I’ve always had the principle that whoever you work with, you see them as your family. That’s how I stay professional and passionate. You can’t say, ‘That’s not my job. That’s your own business.’ So I’ve always had close relationships with my ‘interpretees’,” he explains, noting that he spent a month at Jim Presley’s home in Panama City Beach, Florida at the former coach’s invitation. For him, the biggest challenge is how to translate the coach’s words appropriately: “People talk with emotion and sometimes you need that emotion [in interpretation] and sometimes you don’t. Let’s say a player is arguing with the coach and it looks like a conflict is coming. Do you think that’s the appropriate time to add more emotion? I don’t think so. This depends on our experience. We can really notice the atmosphere, whether it’s good or bad…. If they’re arguing and really mad, I should probably hold back to prevent more conflict.”
Although a good percentage of Taiwanese players have a decent understanding of English—like relief pitcher CC Lee, who played nine years of US Major League Baseball—an interpreter is still essential when coaches are talking to players about pitching/batting mechanics and other key points, and in double-checking everyone’s understanding. On the lighter side, Kuo remarks that most of the Taiwanese players have picked up English nicknames, often given by foreign teammates, like No. 14 shortstop Wang “Subway” Seng-wei, No. 9 third baseman Wang “Stick” Wei-chen and No. 7 centerfielder Chang “Hollywood” Chih-hao. Despite the various challenges and tiring schedule, Kuo says he loves his job: “It’s baseball, my favorite sport. When your hobby is your job and you come to the stadium and watch games for your job, how amazing is that?”