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Why Phillies are no longer lost in translation

CLEARWATER, Fla. A throng of reporters, TV cameras, and microphones clustered near Odubel Herrera's locker after a morning workout earlier in spring training. The intriguing outfielder had yet to do a group interview. His English is limited.

Andres Blanco. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Andres Blanco. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)Read more

CLEARWATER, Fla.- A throng of reporters, TV cameras, and microphones clustered near Odubel Herrera's locker after a morning workout earlier in spring training. The intriguing outfielder had yet to do a group interview. His English is limited.

"Whitey," Herrera shouted to the far corner of the Phillies clubhouse.

The Venezuelan sought infielder Andres Blanco, a countryman, to serve as his interpreter. Blanco walked across the room and stood by Herrera's side. He translated reporters' questions into Spanish and Herrera's answers into English.

Blanco was unable to speak English when he was a prospect with the Kansas City Royals in the early 2000s. He felt bad relying on teammates for interviews. A baseball clubhouse can be an intimidating place for a player who doesn't speak English.

"I didn't have the opportunity to express my real power of how I feel, the way I play, and all that stuff," Blanco said.

The Phillies, like most other teams, do not have a full-time interpreter. A quarter of the players invited to camp come from Spanish-speaking backgrounds. Blanco, Carlos Ruiz, Freddy Galvis, and first base coach Juan Samuel are among those who serve as translators on a case-by-case basis.

Galvis was the only Spanish-speaking player during his first season at single-A Williamsport. It forced him to learn English.

"One thing I learned was not to be afraid to speak it," Galvis said. "Sometimes you speak it and a lot of people make fun because you don't know what to say. You get scared and you won't speak anymore."

Along with interpreting interviews, Blanco and Galvis translate conversations between teammates. If Chase Utley says something about an opposing pitcher, Blanco said, he relays it to a player such as Herrera.

On consecutive days this week, the Phillies started pitchers who spoke limited English. Blanco said the Latino players paid extra attention. It is their responsibility, he said, to relay information to their teammates.

Galvis left his post at shortstop Wednesday and jogged toward the pitching mound as soon as he saw catcher Cameron Rupp walk to speak with pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. The Cuban righthander speaks limited English. Rupp said he has a good rapport with Gonzalez, but Galvis will translate for him if the conversation is detailed.

"It's a club. It's a team. We have to help each other for the team," Blanco said.

Blanco dedicated himself to learning English five years ago when his wife was pregnant with the couple's son, Fabian. They were in the hospital and a nurse asked Blanco if he needed an interpreter. He declined and told the staff that he was fluent in both languages.

But Blanco was unable to understand anything. Baseball and medicine are different tongues. He attended a few classes and picked up the language quickly.

Galvis learned mostly by watching TV and reading a book given to him by the Phillies. He took classes while at the team's baseball academies in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. Herrera is learning by listening to his teammates. He tries to have an English conversation each day. He said it is coming along well.

Blanco and Galvis have developed a solid command of the English language.

"When you really have communication with people, life becomes easier," Blanco said. "That's why I just decided to learn the hard way. One way or another, I wanted to learn it. I'm not afraid to get close to anybody. If anyone sits right next to me, I'm ready to talk."

The Chicago White Sox hired an interpreter two seasons ago as the team's manager of cultural development. Most Japanese players are equipped with team-hired translators. Blanco said having a translator would be good, but it helps to not have one.

The absence of a translator pushes the players to learn English, which he said allows them to "understand the whole thing, the whole situation."

"The whole point here is to communicate," Blanco said. "At some point you need to communicate and you have to learn."

Each interview, Blanco said, is a chance to practice his English. He said he likes to interpret for others and wants to do it the right way. Blanco tests his mettle with his teammates. He conversed last week in the clubhouse after a game with pitcher Kevin Slowey, who studied Spanish in high school and college.

Slowey speaks to Blanco in Spanish and Blanco converses back in English. They offer each other feedback on their language. Blanco said the pitcher's speech is impressive. Slowey will have a minor in Spanish when he finishes his degree at the University of Pittsburgh.

"It's a great way to share with your teammates and get to know them," Slowey said. "You're really on common ground when you speak a common language."

Herrera is thankful for Blanco's assistance this spring. He said the veteran has showed him how to work at a major-league level and has done much more than just serve as a translator. In that first interview, Herrera was asked if he has fun playing baseball. The 23-year-old said he does. That is all he can do, Herrera said. Blanco interjected.

"Jugar duro," Blanco said.

"And play hard," Herrera added.

The teammates laughed. Herrera's first interview was finished. The translator had done his job. And if Herrera has his way, that assistance will not be needed for long.

Phillies minor leaguer Stassi gives back to Calif. hometown

Yuba City, Calif., is the type of town where everyone seems to know one another, Brock Stassi said. The Phillies minor-leaguer said the Northern California town feels much smaller than its population of roughly 60,000.

He said he and his younger brother, Max, love their hometown. So when they signed their professional contracts, one of the first things they did was give back. Max Stassi was drafted by Oakland in 2009.

Now with Houston, Max Stassi started the Homers for the Hungry charity event shortly after. Brock Stassi was drafted by the Phillies in 2011 and joined his brother in hosting the event.

The brothers held their sixth annual event this offseason and have raised more than $100,000 for the food banks in Yuba City.

Homers for the Hungry is a home run derby

in which fans can pledge money for each homer or donate. They also have raffle prizes donated by other professional players.

"There's a lot of families that struggle," Brock Stassi said. "Yuba City will always be home to us and we don't like seeing people struggle at trying to make ends meet."

Billingsley's other passion: animal rescue

Chad Billingsley's trip to the pet store began with the aim of just buying a bag of dog food to donate to the Berks County Animal Rescue League. Next thing he knew, he and his wife were stocking their truck with food, bones, and treats. The Phillies pitcher purchased everything on the shelter's list of needs.

Billingsley said he and his wife, Tiffany, have always loved animals. But they were unable to find the right organization when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers. They found the Berks County Animal Rescue League four years ago just before Thanksgiving 2011. The couple has stayed involved with the shelter through hosting fund-raisers and attending events. The Billingsleys live in Robesonia, Pa., in the offseason.

The couple has a dog named Roxy. Their other dog, Riley, died earlier this month. Billingsley said his wife says they will have a house full of dogs once he retires.

The Animal Rescue League is operated by volunteers and run through donations. The organization shelters any types of animals, not just dogs. Billingsley said they will not turn anything away.

"I just really liked what they stood for," Billingsley said. "You can tell by the people that work there that they're really passionate about animals. And that's what we liked."