ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — The Tampa Bay Rays are filled with all-star players, but Manny Navarro is an all-star off the field, who is vital to the team as their translator.
It’s no secret, there are several standout players when one takes a look at the Rays 26-man active roster. Players like Yandy Diaz, Randy Arozarena, and Jose Siri are constantly getting interviewed. However, while they get to be in front of the camera, there’s a man behind the camera ensuring they look good.
“The first thing is them having my trust and vice versa,” said Manny Navarro.
Manny Navarro is the team’s interpreter/translator. Whether the players are in practice, in a game, or getting interviewed, Navarro is ready to help 10 Spanish-speaking players whose English is still being developed.
“It’s like remembering a phone number,” Navarro said. “It’s 10 numbers I try to break it into threes. Most of the time I have my hands behind my back and I’m counting keywords or key topics to talk about,” he said.
That’s the strategy Navarro uses while translating for players, which is no easy fete.
Navarro is a Mexican-American who was born and raised in San Diego, California.
“I grew up, I don’t remember speaking English, it was just Spanish in my house,” he said.
Navarro eventually learned English in elementary school. That’s also when he fell in love with baseball.
“My dad and I would get into arguments in high school and he would say what do you want to do when you grow up? I said I just want to play baseball,” Navarro said.
Navarro hoped to be recruited by Division 1 collegiate baseball programs, but unfortunately, that never happened. Instead, Navarro went to a Division 2 college, walked onto their team, and made it! When Navarro graduated from college, his baseball career ended as well. Post-college, he built a name for himself as a strength and conditioning trainer.
“I loved my job,” Navarro said. “I mean I thought that’s what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life.”
Everything changed when he received one phone call.
“A friend of mine asked if I could throw batting practice for a player the Rays were thinking about drafting,” Navarro said.
Navarro turned down this kind of job three times, but for some reason, he took this one.
“Luckily the Rays front office was there, Erik Neander was there. I gave him my card, I didn’t know who anyone was, but I got $40 out of it.”
After shooting his shot, Navarro’s phone rang a couple of days later.
“One friend calls and asked me if I spoke Spanish, and then another friend called asking the same thing,” he said. “They then said the Rays GM is going to call you tomorrow and that’s when I said excuse me? Sure enough, Erik gave me a call the next day and gave me a rundown of the translator position which I was unaware of.”
Navarro got the job in 2016. He could then say he was a part of major league baseball.
“The goal was to make it to major leagues one way or another and I made it in a way I didn’t expect to,” he said.
Navarro translates for every Spanish-speaking Rays player, at any given moment. He has worked very closely with Ray’s first baseman Yandy Diaz since 2018.
“We all trust him, he’s everything for us, especially for players like me,” Diaz said via translator. “He gives you the trust and confidence; he’s great to us.”
As a young, Mexican-American growing up in San Diego, Navarro said he never imagined being in this position. However, he knew if he worked hard and believed in himself, it would happen. And it did.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “To be on a baseball field to some of the baseball players in the world… the best thing would have been to be a player but this is the next best thing. I knew I could one way or another, but I never knew how, but I’d knew I’d find a way to get here.”
Navarro said so many of his family members and other people within the Latin and Hispanic communities often let him know that they look up to him. To Navarro, that means the world.
“That’s the kind of impact I like to have,” he said. “I have a pretty cool story, but everyone’s got their own. Create your own story try not to follow the norm, you can do anything.”