Pappas serves as more than translator for Rays

March 17th, 2016

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Dayron Varona walked along a chain-link fence lined by fans who were yelling "hello" and "nice to see you" to the Cuban-born outfielder.

Varona turned to George Pappas, who accompanied him, and asked: "¿Qué debo decirles?"

Translated, that's: "What should I tell them?"

Pappas told him: "Thank you, nice to see you, too."

Varona repeated the Rays translator's words, thereby making all involved happy.

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Pappas' position is an evolving one. He works in the Rays' communications department. In the past, Pappas served as a translator on an as-needed basis. Now he has the responsibility of being the team's official Spanish-speaking translator.

"This is the first year that the league and the Players Association are both requiring clubs to travel a full-time member of the staff to serve in this function," Pappas said. "I think it's something that's been a long time coming."

Pappas, 24, is accomplished. The University of Florida graduate is a professional violinist -- he's played the national anthem for seven Major League teams -- he's written a book ("A Tribe Reborn: How the Cleveland Indians of the '90s Went from Cellar Dwellers to Playoff Contenders"), and he's fluent in three languages (English, Greek and Spanish) while being well-versed in several others. recently spent a day with Pappas to get an idea about what his job is like.

Pappas arrived to work at 6:30 a.m., first tending to his PR duties of the day by gathering the clips of all the daily articles about the team (which are provided to the media along with the coaching staff). He prepared an internal brief before the clubhouse opened, and he manned the clubhouse to serve in PR and translator functions, always on the lookout for any Spanish-speaking players needing help.

Outfield/first-base coach Rocco Baldelli and third-base coach Charlie Montoyo approached Pappas on the field where the full squad met. Baldelli asked if Pappas could help translate for Varona during outfield and baserunning meetings.

"They needed to make sure that he knew where he needed to go during the workout," Pappas said.

Thus, Pappas' translating duties are not just for media.

The outfield meeting took place on Field 5 at the Charlotte Sports Complex. Baldelli told the group of outfielders they had done well at the Major League level in 2015 before emphasizing a few areas where improvements were needed.

Baldelli wanted to know if any of the players were uncomfortable playing any of the outfield positions. Some are center fielders, and the Rays have a Platinum Glove Award winner at the position in Kevin Kiermaier. That means any outfield candidates are likely to find themselves in either left or right field.

Pappas relayed Baldelli's question to Varona, who answered. Pappas then delivered Varona's reply: "I'm just here to play, and it doesn't matter to me."

Varona appeared to appreciate Pappas' help.

While Pappas provides a necessary service for the Rays, the organization has strived to bridge the language gap for years.

"In our situation specifically, we have a very developed language and cultural program that's very focused around our Latin American players," Pappas said. "That's something they start when they're coming up from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela. And it follows them here when they're in the player development programs in the States.

"You look at a player like Alex Colome. He's been through that. Enny Romero, he's been through that. Juniel Querecuto, he's been through that. They get here, and my help is really not needed a whole lot. We signed Varona as a free agent from Cuba, so he hasn't had the benefit of that. He's actually just now starting to take English classes."

Variety defines Pappas' duties. Later in the spring, Varona needed a translator after the Rays' trip to Cuba became official. Pappas didn't miss a beat, translating in the fashion reporters appreciate by speaking as if he were the player himself when giving the answers.

Baldelli has enjoyed having a translator at his disposal this spring.

"I think it's very helpful to have a staff member now in every organization to help translate for our players who need a Spanish speaker," Baldelli said. "He's been out there virtually every day this spring so far to help. He's been great with Varona. He also has to take care of his own duties. He's a nice young guy, and he's a talented guy. It's going to be fun having him around."