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White Sox translator Billy Russo wears many hats

Billy Russo (right) translates for White Sox star Jose Abreu during spring training. (Sun-Times)

When a yearning White Sox fan base finally gets its first look at super-prospect Eloy Jimenez — whenever that is — Billy Russo will be at his shoulder when it’s time to hear from him for the first time in a Sox uniform.

When Jimenez speaks in Spanish, Russo will be there to translate for the media, as he does for Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Reynaldo Lopez and other Spanish-speaking Sox who don’t speak enough English to trust doing it on their own. Russo also will be there for Luis Robert, who might be the next big thing after Jimenez.

It’s an important role for the Sox, who have many budding Hispanic stars, not to mention Abreu, their current marquee player. But Russo does much more than tell us what the Sox’ Spanish-speaking players are saying. He has become a trusted friend, confidant, helper and all-around go-to guy in the Sox’ clubhouse, which features 12 Hispanic players on the 25-man roster.

‘‘It’s a little bit of everything,’’ Russo, 35, said of his job. ‘‘A little bit of counseling, recommending things to do. They ask me about places to go. If one of their kids has a fever, they might ask me where to go or what to do. Or where to order food, where to take their wives to dinner. Sometimes they need to vent, so I just listen to them. It’s like being a brother or friend who asks for or gives advice.’’

Russo blends in because of his easygoing nature. He can take teasing — a survival skill in any clubhouse — and, most important, players say they trust him.

‘‘He means a lot to us,’’ said outfielder Avisail Garcia, who doesn’t need Russo to translate but considers him ‘‘a great friend.’’ ‘‘He does a lot for us in everything. Whatever you need, he is always available. I’m glad we have somebody like him because it’s hard to find. He’s good people.’’

Abreu, who uses Russo to translate and always gives him a fist bump and a thank-you after interviews, agreed.

‘‘We all have to be glad and thankful to have people around us to help with the language,’’ Abreu said. ‘‘Having people help you express your thoughts and feelings, it’s very important for us.


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‘‘But we have also built a personal relationship, as well. It allows you to be comfortable.’’

“The biggest thing is trust, and they trust me,’’ Russo said. ‘‘For me, that’s the most important thing.’’

Russo’s connections to the Sox go back to his youth. As a kid growing up in Venezuela, he took such a liking to them — mostly because of Venezuelans Ozzie Guillen and Wilson Alvarez — that he signed an imaginary contract to play for them when he was 9.

When his dream of becoming a player became a fantasy, he turned to a journalism career and established a working relationship with Guillen, who introduced him to the Sox’ front office. In his seventh season as an analyst for the Sox’ Spanish-language radio broadcasts, he was hired in 2015 as the team’s Spanish communications manager.

With about 30 percent of big-league rosters made up of Hispanic players, Major League Baseball required all 30 teams to hire translators in 2016. For Russo, having a grasp of the different cultures is a big plus.

‘‘Having that person there makes them feel more secure and comfortable,’’ he said. ‘‘My work is important because I’m the bridge between what players say and [media]. I always want to say what they say, nothing more or less.’’

When Lopez said the Sox ‘‘played like clowns’’ this season in Cleveland, Russo didn’t even think about softening the quote.

‘‘There was no way for me to say something else,’’ he said. ‘‘I have to say what they say. There’s a fine line between being a friend and a professional, and that’s the responsibility. And knowing your role is what makes you important to them and trustworthy. I’m in the middle, and I have to be right with them.’

On deck: Royals at Sox

Friday: Jakob Junis (6-11, 4.82 ERA) vs. James Shields (4-14, 4.41), 7:10 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM.

Saturday: Brad Keller (5-5, 3.40) vs. Dylan Covey (4-9, 6.06), 6:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 720-AM.

Sunday: Heath Fillmyer (1-1, 3.61) vs. Reynaldo Lopez (4-9, 4.40), 1:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 720-AM.