David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
TAMPA, Fla. - The end-of-the-row locker that once belonged to Alex Rodriguez remains empty in the Yankees' clubhouse at Steinbrenner Field. It's a coveted spot in a cluttered room, nothing like the luxury digs up north, and Carlos Beltran is now the vacant lot's closest neighbor.
With A-Rod gone for the season and Beltran moved in, it's hard to imagine a better swap for a team looking to move past the drama and back into the playoffs. Beltran is an eight-time All-Star and a good bet for Cooperstown, but he's as low-maintenance as they come.
Unless there is something on his mind, and Beltran has wondered recently if it might be time to speak up on behalf of young Hispanic players trying to adjust to life in the majors. After seeing what happened to Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals pitcher who got tangled up in a Twitter mess of his own making involving adult websites, Beltran fears that the language gap greatly exacerbated the problem.
Martinez, a 22-year-old Dominican, seemed to dig himself a deeper hole because of his confusion. But Beltran thinks there is a simple solution to prevent similar problems. He plans to speak with the players association about possibly employing a Spanish-speaking interpreter -- a sort of intermediary -- for each team, depending on the clubhouse.
"I believe there's a lot of guys that come to the big leagues and sometimes they just don't get the language,'' Beltran said. "They get misinterpreted by saying something they don't want to say. I feel it's necessary for those guys to at least have a person around that can help them, when a situation comes up, to address the media. Whatever happens in the game or off the field.''
Beltran has a point. In the Yankees' clubhouse there's a precedent, with three of the four Japanese players each having his own interpreter. Hideki Matsui, now a spring-training instructor, also has his longtime interpreter with him.
In Beltran's view, that has to be a huge benefit for those players, and he's right. The nuances between languages can easily create misunderstanding, even with an interpreter. Now put yourself in a player's cleats trying to explain a critical blunder after a game -- or an embarrassing episode away from the ballpark -- when you can't come up with the suitable words in your second language.
At best, the responses come across as awkward or unintentionally funny. At worst, those fumbled quotes dump fuel on a fire and create more trouble for a player -- maybe undeservedly so. Everything is recorded, and with the speed of social media, it's around the world twice before the damage can be repaired.
"I think we have to find a way to do it,'' Beltran said. "Just have one guy on every ballclub, and only if it's needed.''
A Japanese player's contract often includes an interpreter. For Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees have an interpreter and personal media relations director to aid his transition. Tanaka is a special case. He's covered by dozens of media on a daily basis.
For Spanish-speaking players who have difficulty with English, clubs usually rely on teammates or coaches to step into that role. Often, that works. But Beltran believes it can be a burden for some, and not everyone wants that responsibility. Just because another player or coach also speaks Spanish, it doesn't mean he can handle the job.
That's why Beltran, a 17-year veteran, is trying to focus more attention on it. He may be new to the Yankees, but it already feels as if he's played here for a decade. With Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte newly retired, and Derek Jeter next to go, the Yankees are in flux when it comes to leadership. Beltran, in his own laid-back way, is a natural to step into that void.
"I've been through a lot in baseball,'' Beltran said, "and I think I have a little bit of an idea how this business works.''