By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Imagine your second day on the job being in front of cameras and reporters at a press conference introducing the Seattle Mariners newest player from Japan. This was the situation presented to then 26-year-old Ken Barron on his second day of work as the Mariners’ interpreter.
It was a big press conference introducing catcher Kenji Johjima to Seattle, but Barron, now 28 years old, recalls it as being a great experience.
A Seattle native, Barron learned the language from his Japanese mother and American father. For Barron, Japanese was always spoken at home. More opportunity to learn Japanese culture came in 1987 when his family moved to Japan while he was in grade school for his father’s work. Barron and his family lived in Japan for four years.
After returning to Seattle, Barron attended Roosevelt High School and Shoreline Community College, where he played baseball. It was Barron’s love for the game that eventually got him a shot with the Mariners.
Upon graduating from the University of Washington with a business degree in 2003, Barron worked for the Seattle Mariners doing odd jobs. Far from his current, interesting work, this first stint proved to be a good foundation for the future. However, Barron, a reservist in the National Guard, learned that he was mobilized and left the Mariners to serve as a soldier in Iraq.
After Barron’s yearlong tour of duty in Iraq, he worked outside of the Mariners organization. This time basketball helped him get another job in baseball. In January 2006, Barron sent an e-mail to an old friend, a Gonzaga basketball fan in the Mariners organization, bragging about the University of Washington men’s basketball team’s success.
The timing had been perfect. The Mariners were looking for an interpreter and when it came up, Barron’s friend had immediately thought of Barron but had no way of contacting him. Luckily, Barron’s well-timed teasing e-mail helped him become the Mariners new Japanese interpreter.
Barron, along with Anthony Suzuki, is the chief Japanese interpreter for the Mariners at home and on the road. Barron’s work includes traveling with the team, assisting in interviews with Ichiro Suzuki and Kenji Johjima and working with Japanese media.
Barron’s role is unlimited as he works with various departments throughout the organization that need his special talents. Although there is much travel and long hours during the season, Barron would not trade in a single minute.
“I really enjoy establishing relationships with people and meeting different people,” Barron said. He realizes that the job is a privilege and not many interpreters work in baseball.
Speaking about his co-workers, Barron said Ichiro and Johjima are “really nice guys,” and he is lucky to work with them as they are true professionals and people to look up to in regards to work ethic. “It is really nice to be around (Ichiro and Johjima).”
Barron believes that knowledge of the Japanese language is not sufficient for his job alone.The understanding of the Japanese culture and business is another vital element of the position. Barron advised that it is difficult to communicate effectively without the knowledge of Japanese culture.
During his time at the UW, Barron sought out and received a scholarship with the Mombusho Program through the Japanese Consulate of Seattle. “I wouldn’t have this job without it.” The yearlong program helps college students attend school in Japan.
Barron stated that the program paid for everything during his year. Even though Barron grew up in Japanese culture and lived in Japan during grade school, he spoke highly of the program and the benefits students receive from it. At the time that Barron attended the program, he stated that it was underutilized, as the number of scholarships was more than the number of applicants.
While every day may not be like the second day of work for Barron, he says working for his hometown team is truly a blessing, and that it is a fun job he really enjoys. ♦
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.