More than Meets the Eye: Life as a CPBL Interpreter

Cue the 1997 Chicago Bulls intro song (no doubt the best intro music ever) as you start reading this article because you’re about to hear from an All Star lineup of...CPBL interpreters. Inspired by my most recent interpreting job with Team USA at the 2017 U12 Baseball World Cup hosted in Tainan, this article is dedicated to interpreters in the baseball world. Partly because, as the title suggests, there is a lot more that goes into the job of an interpreter than the average fan would know or think of. And partly, as all of the CPBL import players can attest to, an interpreter is vital to their transition and success, on and off the field. So without further ado, from the Uni Lions, at interpreter…

Tiger Henry Su (蘇元泰)
Tiger is the 大哥 (Dàgē, big brother) of CPBL interpreters with over 20 years of experience. He even has his own page on Taiwan’s Wiki Baseball site (Ray and Jay below do, too). You want to know how it’s done, you ask Tiger, who has been at it since 1995. He started off as a fan, saw an ad in the paper for interpreters, and the rest is history. After five years with the Wei-Chuan Dragons and a short hiatus from baseball in 2000 and 2002-2003, Tiger has been the stalwart and role model for CPBL interpreters. You have to be good at your job to be doing it for 20 years, most of those years with the same team.


Ray Hsieh (謝章瑞)
Ray’s ties to baseball started off as a fan first as well when he was part of the Uni Lions Fan Club back in 1994. He graduated from Trinity Western University in British Columbia, Canada in 2000 and upon returning to Taiwan, started interpreting at numerous tournaments while also working for the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association (CTBA). In 2013, he was hired on as the interpreter for the then EDA Rhinos and has been with the team, now the Fubon Guardians, ever since.

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Jay Hsu (許人傑)
Out of the four interpreters interviewed, Jay has spent the most time abroad. He attended Southwest Missouri State where he graduated with a degree in Entertainment Management in 2011. During college and immediately after, Jay worked for the Springfield Cardinals (Double-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals) when at the suggestion of a friend in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, he became the interpreter for the Pirates, who had Taiwanese players Chang Jin-De and Wang Wei-Chung. In 2014, Jay hit the jackpot and reached the pinnacle of interpreting when Wang was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the Rule 5 Draft, spending an entire season in the Major Leagues. Jay has also interpreted for different camps and tournaments hosted in Taiwan and has been working for the CPBL Players Association for the past two years.


Papa Ruan (阮柏緯)
Despite his name, Papa is the baby of the group as he enters just his third season interpreting. He spent 2015 with the Lamigo Monkeys and has been with the Chinatrust Brothers for the past two years. Although Papa was a Turkish major in college, he always had a knack for English and really solidified his fluency after spending a year working and traveling in Australia. Papa, too, was a baseball fan since childhood when he rooted for the Mercury Tigers.


One common thread that is evident among interpreters is their love for the game. All of them followed baseball when they were younger and their baseball IQ is a must when working for any team. The other obvious requirement for being an interpreter is fluency in Mandarin and English, but the role of the interpreter is a fluid and complex one, reaching far beyond just language. Most people probably think of it as just interpreting words. How hard can that be, right? But in the CPBL, so much more goes into it. First of all, there are two cultures that interpreters have to act as a bridge between. Do you think any MLB team opens up spring training with a team 拜拜 (Bàibài, praying) session?

So many other things hit you right away. You walk off the plane and you are immediately drenched in sweat. You get into the city and are surrounded by scooters. Road signs and traffic laws are merely suggestions, stores don’t open until 11 am, and how in the world do I use a squatty potty?! And where’s the toilet paper? Where’s the nearest McDonalds? How do I get a cell phone? What time is it back home? HELP!!! Things that, I’m sure, we’ve all experienced as foreigners in Taiwan but have grown accustomed to, can be daunting and overwhelming but slow down...take a deep breath...and call your interpreter.

Papa explains, “In the beginning, the coaches and players are much more dependent on you but I try to teach them and not just do things for them so that they can get to a point of doing it themselves. Each player is different and it depends on how quickly they can adapt.”


As the adventure continues away from the field, players can undoubtedly find a sense of normalcy in the familiarity of the diamond, or can they? In Western culture, individuals are well, just that -- individuals. They are encouraged to be different, to ask questions, to think and reflect, and to give their input. In Taiwan and many other Asian cultures, there is a stronger sense of community, of obedience and respect, of keeping the peace, and of discipline and hard work. If you don’t think cultural differences affect communication, baseball strategy and philosophy, and trust between coaches and players, then you are sorely mistaken.

Jay recalls from the year Wang was with the Brewers: “We would walk into the weight room and the strength coach would ask Wang, ‘What do you want to work on today?’ Wang would not know how to answer. He would just do what he was told. Whereas towards the end of the season he had a much better idea of what to do and how he wanted to prepare his body for pitching.”

Papa adds, “When I am translating for [Brothers coach Cory Snyder], I need to first understand who he is as a person. That helps me understand what he is trying to say. That then allows me to communicate that to the team or a player more effectively. I then also have to read the body language of the players to see if they understand because they may not ask on the spot. I have to privately go and check with each player and then relay their questions or misunderstandings back to the coaches.”

So as you can begin to see, the language portion is just the first layer. Beneath that are other multiple layers that the more you address, the more effective you are as an interpreter.

In other words, each of these interpreters has a high EQ (emotional quotient) and are more observant and sensitive to the needs and reactions of others. Along with that comes an affinity for going above and beyond, for seeing something that needs to be done and just doing it. Sometimes it’s finding another fan. Sometimes it’s grabbing some equipment. Often times it's translating schedules and meeting notes in advance so that a coach or player doesn't have to ask. All of the time it's knowing a pitcher’s routine on game day so that he can focus on pitching and not worry about peripheral details.

Ray, who has additional administrative duties with Fubon, explains it this way: “Each minute you are in is the most important minute. If you work hard and fail, it’s OK because the team knows you’re working hard. But if you’re not being proactive and taking care of your responsibilities and you mess up, it’s your fault. It’s a blessing to be in this job and you need a service-oriented attitude. The team comes first. Everything you do is to help the player and the team succeed.”

Given how enmeshed they are in the lives of the players they are helping, it should come as no surprise how strong of a bond good interpreters forge with players. When asked what they enjoy most about their job, every interpreter, to a T, talks about the success of their players and team bringing them the most joy.

For Jay, it was watching Chang Jin-De gain confidence during the season while calling the shots behind the dish. For Papa, it was witnessing the Brothers gel and come together as a team under Snyder. For Ray, it’s journeying with Mike Loree since 2013 and seeing him become one of the most successful foreign pitchers in the CPBL.

And for Tiger: “I am happiest when a foreign player is able to stay for an entire season. That means I have done my job in helping him succeed. It hurts the most when I have to tell a player that he is being released.”

The unselfish and humble nature of interpreters is a quality that all of us can learn from.

If there was ever a need to assemble the Justice League of interpreters, these four studs would undoubtedly be who I would call (maybe I’ll invite them to go see it together). So please raise your glass and join me in saluting our CPBL interpreters, whose blood and sweat goes largely unnoticed, yet is essential to every team.

Tiger, Ray, Jay, and Papa...thank you and keep up the good work.


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