GLENDALE, Ariz. -- He’s often identified in media reports as a translator, but to limit the scope of Lino Diaz’s duties to one task downplays his value to the White Sox.
A former minor-league player who has also coached in the minors and worked in player development, Diaz is entering his second season as the team’s manager of cultural development. In laymen’s terms, Diaz, a member of the coaching staff, is Jose Abreu’s right hand.
Abreu has started to take language lessons online but still has a limited grasp of English. Just as he has done for Jose Quintana and the White Sox other Spanish-first speakers, Diaz will assist Abreu on and off the field. It’s a role Diaz has performed in some form or another since he was drafted out of Nevada-Las Vegas by the Kansas City Royals in 1993 and assigned to Single-A Eugene.
[White Sox Behind The Scenes: Grace Guerrero Zwit]
“I thought right away it might have been my calling,” Diaz said. “Right from the get-go, that’s something I took over. I took (the Spanish speakers) under my wing, helped them out with their apartment. I had a car and drove guys. I felt it was rewarding from early on.”
The White Sox lacked a Spanish-speaker on the staff after bullpen coach Juan Nieves left to become the Boston Red Sox pitching coach in November 2012. The team previously had a cultural attaché, but general manager Rick Hahn hoped to find someone who could both speak Spanish and assist on the field.
Enter Diaz, who has a long resume and a relationship with assistant GM Buddy Bell when both were in the Cleveland Indians organization. Diaz managed the Gulf Coast League Royals in 2001 and was a coach for the Reds’ GCL team from 1999-2000. He also spent 11 seasons with Cleveland in a number of roles, including serving as the team’s director of Latin American operations from 2007-09. Diaz, who hails from Panama City, Panama, served as his country’s GM for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Hahn thought he was perfect and first hired Diaz in December 2012 to be the cultural development coordinator for the minor leagues before promoting him to the majors two weeks into spring training.
[White Sox Behind The Scenes: Jeremy Haber, assistant to the GM]
“When you see him out there serving as a translator, perhaps people see that as all he is, but the fact of the matter is he is a very capable and knowledgeable instructor in his own right who happens to speak Spanish as well,” Hahn said. “He provides us with another means of reaching these players in their native tongue and minimizes the chance it gets lost in translation.”
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said an added dimension to Diaz’s translation is his baseball background. Because Diaz has long instructed players, he has a good grasp of what Ventura and the coaches are saying and more importantly, how they’re saying it.
“He understands what you’re saying and what you’re trying to get across so the message and tone and everything else that goes with it is exactly the way you want it,” Ventura said. “We’re lucky to have him.”
He has been able to not only lean on Diaz as a translator with the media, but can ask for assistance with everything. Whenever Quintana might not understand what pitching coach Don Cooper said, he goes to Diaz for clarification. He’s also been able to advance his own English speaking through practice with Diaz.
“Lino is good for all the Latin guys,” Quintana said. “He helps with everything. Whatever you need, at the house, at the field…He helps me a lot here.”
Diaz — who coincidentally worked with prospect Paul Konerko when Diaz was a player/coach at Triple-A Indianapolis in 1998 — believes his player development experience helps considerably.
“It makes it really easier for me as far as knowing exactly what we’re doing when I’m communicating with the Latin players,” Diaz said. “It just makes it more fluent. That’s something I really enjoy and get really passionate about, especially when I can see somebody can do much better than he’s doing.”
[White Sox behind the scenes: Dan Fabian, director of baseball operations]
Diaz’s passion for his role has helped him realize his dream of reaching the major leagues. He spent six seasons in the minors, but never advanced past Triple-A despite a career .294 average and a .755 OPS.
Having left Panama at age 17 and knowing very little English before he went to UNLV, Diaz knows what’s ahead for Abreu. He understands the struggle involved in ordering food at a restaurant or trying to understand what’s said in team meetings. He loves big league life and assisting players going through the experience for the first time.
“It’s something I’ve been doing all my life,” Diaz said. “That’s something I take a lot of pride in. I want to be able to provide (Abreu) with the right information and I take full responsibility for him. I want him to become independent as soon as possible. But I want him to get the right information.”