Byline: John Dietz Daily Herald Sports Writer
It's 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning in Los Angeles in 1985.
"Matt, wake up. It's time for school."
School? On Saturday? When all the other 8-year-olds are still sleeping and will be playing on Little League fields in a few hours?
For nearly 10 years, this is how every weekend would begin for Matt Hidaka. Monday through Friday, he had a regular schedule, attending school with his friends. On Saturday, though, he was in a Japanese school learning his native language.
"I hated it," Hidaka said. "But now it's paying dividends."
Fluent in English and Japanese, the 28-year-old Hidaka works for the White Sox as the interpreter for relief pitcher Shingo Takatsu and second baseman Tadahito Iguchi. Last year, he did the same thing in Los Angeles for Kazuhisa Ishii and Hideo Nomo.
"How many guys get to say they hang out with major-league baseball players?" he said.
Hidaka's job includes much more than simply translating two languages between the media and the ballplayers. From team meetings to translating newspaper or magazine articles to helping with issues at home, Hidaka is there.
"It's 24-7," said Hidaka, who lives just a minute from Takatsu. "If his air conditioner is broken, you are the first one to drive over there or call somebody."
After graduating from high school, Hidaka went to the University of Japan in Tokyo, where he received a degree in education. He then joined a sports marketing company, working with Major League Baseball selling sponsorships for a couple of years.
That eventually led to a job with the Dodgers - although the interpreter part happened by accident.
"I was just trying to get a job working in the front office," Hidaka said.
Takatsu got to know Hidaka through Ishii, and Takatsu asked the White Sox if he could have his own interpreter this year. They obliged, and that's how Hidaka landed on the South Side.
Takatsu, in his second year with the White Sox, gets the gist of a conversation now. But when it comes to speaking, general greetings such as "Hi" or "How are you doing?" are about all he can muster.
"When you say it's easier for me, I think it is listening-wise," Takatsu said. "I understand the language a little more. Playing- wise, it's not any easier. But at the same time, I can pick up the language a little bit."
Said Hidaka: "They have bits and pieces of words, but to throw that into a complete sentence is a little difficult for both of them."
One would think Hidaka wouldn't want Takatsu or Iguchi to pick up too much English. If they did, which isn't likely, he'd be out of a job.
That's not how he looks at it.