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Seattle Mariners translator aims to speak language of love

As Luis Castillo's personal translator, Freddy Llanos switches frequently from English to Spanish. It's something he's been doing his entire life.

SEATTLE — When Luis Castillo takes the mound, the language he speaks is universal.

His fastball is a shout, his changeup is a whisper, his presence needs no translation.

But off the field, there's a language barrier.

Consider that barrier broken thanks to Freddy Llanos. Llanos is a baseball fan and a bilingual force.

The 28-year-old has worked in the Mariners communications department for a year and a half. He's the only Spanish speaker on the roster.

Freddy's the perfect person for the job. He's been a translator in training his entire life.

"My parents don't speak any English so it was always Spanish (at home)," Freddy said. "Translator for them since I was a little kid."

He says it was never a burden, but actually a blessing. His success is a direct result of his parents' sacrifices.

"They were undocumented. Undocumented from Mexico," he said.

Mr. and Mrs. Llanos have been married for 29 years.

They met in Washington, not so much in search of the American dream, but instead the dreams of their three sons.

"They're big agricultural people," Freddy said. "Working out in the apple fields and everything. As soon as I could, they took me out there with them. So I grew up working in apple orchards."

It was all part of a bigger plan to get Freddy on the right path.

"I'm very thankful for them that they took me out there because I learned, 'Hey, if you're making these sacrifices so that I can have good education and have a better job, I'm not going to let this go to waste.' They didn't even graduate high school, so just me graduating high school and taking that step going to college was just a big success. You get to do something that no one in your family has ever done before and to see their smiles when I put on the cap and gown, it was good," he said.

Freddy enrolled at Washington State with the goal of striking it rich.

"I went into WSU as a mechanical engineer... I had this plan. I was like, 'I'm going to go to college. Get this good job and help my parents financially, help them get out of the agricultural life,'" he said.

But halfway through, he decided to switch to a career that's rich in emotional fulfillment and not much else.

"I even got looks in the administration office when I went in there and said, 'Yeah I want to leave engineering and go into journalism.'"

The stunned looks didn't dissuade Freddy. They caused him to double down.

After graduating, he landed a job as an on-air reporter at KNDU—the local NBC affiliate in the Tri-Cities.

It felt like he had hit for the cycle. In reality, he had broken it.

"When I got my first news job, that was my first job outside of picking apples and cherries," he said.

But there was just one problem. His mom was an avid viewer but was having trouble understanding what she was watching.

"She was like, 'I love that you're on TV, but I can't understand what you're saying.' And that hit me because they're the reason I'm here, and to not understand me…"

So Freddy quickly got a job with their sister Telemundo station.

His mom was happy, but no one else in town was.

"'This guy's Spanish is terrible, get this guy off TV' all that stuff," he said, recalling the feedback he got on social media. "But for me, I'm the guy that you tell me I'm bad at something, I'm going to work on it until you can't say that about me anymore."

After two years, the tape didn't lie. Freddy had found his footing.

He used it to get a job at another Telemundo station, this time as a sports anchor in a top-50 market.

"The news director called me from there, 'Hey I'm from Telemundo from Oklahoma City.' I took a pause, 'There's Hispanics out there, there's Spanish speakers out there?'" I had no idea," he said.

After a few years in OKC, then came a call up to the Big Leagues.

"About mid-March of 2022, I get a call from the Mariners. They were like, 'We might need you to translate.' And I said 'Perfect. Let's do it,'" he said.

It became something they couldn't go without when they traded for Luis Castillo.

"He helps me a lot because my English still isn't good enough to do an interview," Castillo said in Spanish.

Freddy said the hardest element of his job is remembering every part of Castillo's answers.

When he first started, he asked Ichiro's translator for some tricks of the trade. The inside baseball response was to focus not on the exact words, but the overall meaning.

Freddy said with every interview he thinks of family.

"I still go home and a lot of people still tell me, 'I can't believe you're working for the Mariners,'" he said.

For Hispanic Heritage Month, he's proud to make them proud.

"Just to know there are people like me in the front office of a professional baseball team," he said.

To some, it's English and Spanish.

To those who know him best, it's a language of love.

"My mom's actually out there right now picking apples," Freddy said. "Being here, hopefully for them, they can see that and say, 'It was worth it.'"

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