Gregor Blanco still remembers when he couldn’t order a pizza in English — never mind conduct an interview.
“I tried to point at the pictures of the things I wanted and all of a sudden they brought me a whole different pizza,” Blanco said, recalling a trip to Pizza Hut that he made shortly after signing with the Atlanta Braves as a 15 year old in 2000. “… It was a mess.”
These days, the Giants super-sub outfielder can order his own pizzas and doesn’t have to rely on a translator to express his thoughts when reporters descend on his locker, but he’s glad that he — and his teammates — have the option.
All 30 teams received in January a joint directive from the MLB commissioner’s office and the player’s union requiring them to hire a Spanish language translator for the 2016 season.
“Sometimes the media comes to us and I want to say something the right way or the way that I think about it and I can’t because my English is not [good] enough,” the Venezuelan said. “I can speak a little bit. I can communicate. But for other guys, they can’t. They want to speak. They want to let the people know them.”
That directive is how Erwin Higueros, who also serves as the Giants Hispanic Marketing and Media Relations Manager and Spanish language radio voice, became the club’s first translator.
Now in his 16th season calling games for the Giants, Higueros was a natural fit for the role because like Blanco — he was once the confused kid at Pizza Hut.
“I hear a lot of stories,” Higueros explained. “But I really don’t have to hear any of the stories because I lived them myself.”
Higueros, who has also been a broadcaster for the A’s, 49ers, Raiders and Sharks, moved from Guatemala to the United States with his family when he was 12.
“I know what these players are going through,” Higueros said. “I understand them 100 percent and that’s why I am very happy that there is finally somebody in every team that is going to be able to assist them not just on an interview basis but more so to understand the American culture that is so different from the Hispanic culture.”
The problem is there are still MLB teams, who in spite of the winter directive, have yet to install translators.
“There are a couple of situations that we’re still working on,” admitted MLB Vice President of Public Relations Mike Teevan. “So, there’s a handful of teams that are trying to finalize the process, but most teams are in compliance.”
The Oakland Athletics are one of the teams lagging.
While Higueros is a fixture at AT&T Park — often at his desk in the press box office by 10 a.m., and still in the clubhouse translating some 12 hours later — trying to track down his counterpart in Oakland is a far trickier task.
When asked over the course of the past week who fulfilled that role in Oakland, Catherine Aker, the Director of Corporate Communication, offered a series of contradictory responses.
At first, Aker claimed the team was in the final stages of making the hire. When pressed for a timeline, Aker said that Alex Arpiza had been hired as the bilingual media relations manager/translator and had already been on the public relations staff, filling in as the unofficial interpreter. Aker declined to make Arpiza available for comment.
On Friday, Teevan declined to confirm if the hiring process was complete.
“We expect them to be finalizing their position here in the next couple of days,” Teevan said.
While Teevan admitted the directive had asked club’s to staff the position by Opening Day, he explained the commissioner’s office has been flexible throughout the process.
“We recognize [what] the timeline since January has been — it was not a small task that we gave to the clubs,” Teevan said. “And we’ve tried to be cooperative and we have not wanted to be heavy-handed.”
Famous for their stingy ways, the A’s can’t cry poor when it comes to the delay in bringing on the new staffer. As part of the translator program, the commissioner’s office provided $65,000 stipends to cover the costs of the new positions.
Part of the reason a select number of clubs have missed the soft Opening Day deadline is that the three-tiered interview process is rigorous. Candidates had to interview with the respective clubs as well as with the commissioner’s office and the player’s union.
“It was not easy,” Higueros said of landing his new gig.
Rigorous hiring process or not, the Giants managed to get it done before Opening Day. The A’s did not.