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Billy Russo Dreamed In Venezuela Of Joining The White Sox. He Found A Place In Chicago As Their Translator

Russo, a former sports writer from Venezuela, convinced his editors to send him to Chicago. He's stuck around as the White Sox's official translator.

Billy Russo accompanies Cuban star Luis Robert at a team press conference.
Courtesy of Chicago White Sox
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SOX PARK — Billy Russo was 9 years old growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, when he wrote himself his first major league contract. It was addressed to his favorite team: the Chicago White Sox. 

Russo promised himself he’d find his way to the big leagues, just like his favorite shortstop and fellow Venezuelan, Ozzie Guillén. 

Russo didn’t make it as a player, but he now stands alongside many of them. The kid from Caracas is in his 11th season as the Sox’s translator. 

The White Sox, whose roster this year is about one-third Latino, take Russo on the road, into the clubhouse, to news conferences and up to the booth as a Spanish-language broadcaster. 

Russo considers himself a “big brother” to many Spanish-speaking ballplayers who’ve also found their way to Chicago. 

“It gets lost on people just thinking about them as ballplayers. These guys are from foreign countries; it’s not their language and it’s not their culture. And they’re being asked to perform at the highest level. It’s not an easy task,” said Russo, arms crossed and shades on at his usual spot in the dugout before a recent Sox game against the Orioles.

“My goal is to help them quiet all the distractions from the outside and let them just play.” 

Credit: Courtesy of Chicago White Sox
Russo with Cuban-born Luis Robert as he’s awarded a Golden Glove.

Russo said he’s the “middleman” between Latino players and reporters, arranging interviews and translating every word. He does his best to make players feel comfortable around the team — even when it comes to expressing the little things like “if they need new shoes or have a headache,” Russo said. 

Russo recently welcomed a Venezuelan player, Lenyn Sosa, to the Sox. They talked about how their hometowns are only 30 minutes apart.  

“Then I just said, ‘Congratulations, you worked hard for this and now you have to work even harder to stay,’” Russo said. “’I’m here if you need me.'” 

Russo eats with players on the road and recommends places around Chicago where they can feel closer to home. All-Star first basemen José Abreu, who was born in Cuba, is a regular at 90 Miles Cuban Cafe, and Venezuelan players often go to BienMeSabe Cafe, Russo said. 

The translator has forged relationships with Sox players and coaches and is “respected on both sides,” said manager Tony La Russa. Love for the laidback Russo is expressed daily through the ball-busting banter of baseball, so “that guy is an egomaniac, and it only makes him better,” La Russa said.

La Russa, a bilingual manager, said he appreciates when Russo gets the inside scoop on “what players are really hurting.” 

“If you don’t have somebody like Billy who players are comfortable and confident around, you’re losing an edge,” La Russa said. “Winning baseball is about building a family, and Billy contributes to that.” 

Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago
Billy Russo watches over White Sox manager Tony La Russa as he fields questions from the press on June 24, 2022.

I Connect. That’s The Job’

The day Russo got the job was “just like being called up to the majors,” he said. 

The contract he once wrote to the White Sox was found a couple years back, stuffed away in his childhood room in Caracas, Russo said. Baseball in Venezuela is “something that runs through veins,” Russo said. 

He’d watch games with his parents on Venevisión, which often broadcasted the White Sox because of an ebullient young Venezuelan shortstop — Guillén. When a fellow Venezuelan, Wilson Álvarez, pitched a no-hitter for the Sox in 1991, Russo bought a pinstripe White Sox T-shirt. 

Russo’s own baseball career was “just decent” and fanned out after high school, he said. He took a job as a server at a cyber cafe in Caracas and saved up to go to journalism school. 

Russo got his degree and started writing baseball for a local newspaper, El Universal. Guillén was then the manager of the White Sox and Venezuelan Carlos Zambrano was the ace pitcher for the Cubs. 

Russo pitched his editors on paying his way to Chicago. 

“I told them I wanted to learn English and go there because Chicago has two teams, and one of them is always going to be in town,” Russo said. “I just had a plan, and I’m surprised they said yes.” 

Credit: Courtesy of Chicago White Sox
Billy Russo translates for Cuban star Luis Robert at a team press conference.

With notepad in hand, Russo wandered into his dream city and started to befriend his childhood idol. He and Guillén “had a common friend back home,” Russo said. 

Russo’s first three-month stint in the big leagues was a hit, so the newspaper sent him back. With a rapport in the clubhouse, the Sox asked Russo to be their Spanish radio analyst in 2012 — and soon hired him as their first team translator. 

Russo smiled as he recounted the story in the dugout, looking around Sox Park at “the view that never gets old.” 

“They knew me and my connections and how I handled myself in the clubhouse,” Russo said. “It’s just about treating everyone with respect, and they treat you with respect back. Then you go from there.” 

Credit: Courtesy of Chicago White Sox
Billy Russo with his broadcasting partner Héctor Molina at Sox Park.

Héctor Molina, the Spanish play-by-play broadcaster for the White Sox, said Russo sprints from the booth to the sidelines at the end of games to help star players like Luis Robert tell the cameras about their game-winning homeruns. 

Russo often steps in to help players answer more technical baseball questions, Molina said.

“It’s not an easy job, because you can’t miss a word,” Molina said. “You have to be here all the time. You have to live this sacrifice. He loves the game.” 

Every morning, Russo “takes care of my daughter and reads all the recaps of last night’s games,” he said. He had his first child, Emma, last summer. 

At the ballpark, Russo encourages his second family to learn English at their own pace. 

“It’s a process, like everything. The food here doesn’t even taste the same, and you’re asking them to adjust to it all when they’re trying to do their best on the field,” Russo said. “I just want them to be comfortable and focused, that’s what’s going to help us win a championship. …

“I connect. That’s the job — to be the bridge.” 

Credit: Courtesy of Chicago White Sox
Billy Russo translates for MVP first baseman José Abreu at a White Sox event.

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