Alexandra Noboa's cool sports job: St. Louis Cardinals translator
Alexandra Noboa is trilingual. She's fluent in English, Spanish -- and baseball. And she's parlayed that versatility and expertise into an important role with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Noboa, 29, is in her second season as the team's international communications specialist/Spanish translator, a front-office position in which she helps Spanish-speaking players communicate with English-speaking reporters. It helps, too, that she previously worked in broadcast media in the Miami area after she received her master's degree in multimedia journalism at Florida International University.
She was born in Puerto Rico but grew up in Wisconsin to parents from Colombia and the Dominican Republic. Her dad played baseball as an amateur into his late 50s and was an ardent follower of the Pirates and Red Sox, so Alexandra rooted for them, too, along with her hometown Brewers. Her second cousin, Junior Noboa (whom she considers an uncle), played in the majors as an infielder and is a longtime Arizona Diamondbacks executive and general manager of the Licey Tigres in the Dominican Republic. That she learned baseball at an early age wasn't a surprise.
"My dad has always been a crazy baseball fan, and I grew up watching it," she says.
What was a surprise is the fact that she wound up in the majors. Her goal wasn't to work in professional sports. She studied political science, Latin American studies and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (her mother teaches at Wisconsin-Whitewater) before going to grad school. She then worked a few months as a producer and reporter in Miami radio and TV before taking a job with Major League Baseball as a social media reporter and coordinator. That opened the door to working for the Cardinals.
Now, she spends every day with the team -- from spring training through the end of the season -- at home and on the road, helping with interviews, updating the team's Spanish-language Twitter and Facebook feeds, doing broadcasts for the team's website and social media platforms and helping the Cardinals reach out to Hispanic fans.
Her favorite part of the job: "Being exposed to different people, different cultures and getting to understand the whole baseball culture. Every day is something new, and it can be exciting -- something you won't expect to happen."
Here is her story, in her words:
Taking a swing at baseball
Junior (who splits his time between Miami and the Dominican) would keep in touch with me and ask me about my career. He said, "Why don't you try major league baseball? There's always a need for women journalists, and you can kind of pave your way that way. I'm sure you could find a career path." So, I just started exploring. I thought, "Well, why not?" That's how I came on with Major League Baseball for two years.
I'll translate the question in Spanish to Carlos and Carlos will respond in Spanish and I will respond in English, saying, 'I felt this way, I felt that way,' as if I were Carlos.Alexandra Noboa
Change of scenery
I was on the editorial side (with MLB). I was working remotely and doing a lot of social media and written translation. I covered the Caribbean Series in 2015 in Puerto Rico and covered the World Series in Kansas City, the All-Star Game in Minnesota in 2014 and other special assignments, but my home base was Miami. I didn't really like working from home. It probably would have been a good fit for somebody who had a family. It's everyone's dream, but it's really not. I'm more of a people person and I like to be out doing something. I needed a change, and since I was working so closely with MLB and I saw this mandate come out that all teams were required to have a Spanish translator (by 2016), I started applying to different teams. Working with the Cardinals, it's a lot more personable. They all know you. And I'm just so honored.
Home: away from home
I moved to St. Louis (last May), but then a few days later I was on the road. I do live in St. Louis, but the joke is I really don't because I travel with the team. We joke and say I'm No. 26 on the roster because the players' schedule is my schedule. I was just counting, and the most I've been in St. Louis in a year is one month, and that was in the offseason when I was in the office. That's the longest period of time. And then we broke for spring training.
With my position, the Cardinals made an initiative to reach out to Spanish-speaking media and work on getting our Hispanic fan base up because we have such amazing players like (pitcher) Carlos Martinez, (catcher) Yadier Molina, (shortstop) Aledmys Diaz, a lot of followers, but there wasn't that reach-out. So with my position, we created a Spanish Twitter page. I supervise that. During spring training we opened a Spanish Facebook page. Last year we did our first Spanish broadcast, and this year we're going to have 10, so we're doing a lot of outreach. I also translate any press releases into Spanish, any type of requests, I'll do that, and also oral translations with our guys that need help. Also I'm taking on more of a public relations role, too, kind of doing player appearances and interviews (for the Spanish-speaking players).
Putting the "I" in interviews
I translate in the first person for the media, so I say "I" instead of saying "he says." Like with Carlos Martinez: After every game he pitches, I stand with him at his locker and the media will come and ask the questions in English and I'll translate the question in Spanish to Carlos and Carlos will respond in Spanish and I will respond in English, saying, "I felt this way, I felt that way," as if I were Carlos.
One language, many differences
My friends tell me they have no idea how you understand Carlos or the Dominican guys because they speak really quickly. But ethnically I'm Colombian and Dominican, and my accent is Colombian, and Colombians are known for having perfect Spanish, very clear-speaking and great dialect, very neutral. I've been exposed all my life to Dominican Spanish. My dad's Dominican, so it's familiar.
We moved to Wisconsin when I was 1, but at home we would only speak Spanish. After school, we'd break for summer -- three months -- and go to Colombia and I would come back, and I would forget English completely. I was in shock. I was like mute for a week. It happened all the time, but then it would come back. I grew up very bicultural, very bilingual.
Learning while translating
Being exposed to different people, like with Aledmys, because he's from the Cuban culture, hearing about his story and how he grew up and how he played baseball in Cuba, the first time he experienced it, that's been very interesting to me. Same with Carlos, just learning his background when he grew up in the Dominican Republic, very poor, and just the stories that he tells us. Doing interviews, that's how I learn about the players, too. Those have been cool experiences, to get to know these players on a personal level.
Players' comfort levels
Yadier Molina, Jhonny Peralta, Jose Martinez, they usually do their interviews in English. But, for instance, any type of Spanish-speaking media that comes in presents them the opportunity to interview in Spanish. It's interesting. Some of the guys feel limited by English, so you see how much more comfortable and willing they are to do it when they know the interview's going to be in Spanish.
At ease in Spanish
When he (Molina) is doing interviews with me on camera in Spanish, for instance, he's laughing or joking, and then you see a difference with him doing an interview in English -- very serious. It brings out a completely different personality.
During the game
Before and after games, I have responsibilities with the players. During the game I sit in the press box with my computer. I'll do Twitter updates, and I need to pay attention to the game, in case anything happens. I need to be prepared for downstairs (in interviews later).
Aledmys Diaz speaks English, but last year when he was hit by a pitch and broke his thumb, he wanted me to translate for him. He told me, "Right now I can't even think straight. I would much rather do it in Spanish." That was a rush thing, but things will happen that way.
Working in a male environment
I sometimes end up being the only woman on the plane, the bus, everywhere. That adjustment has been difficult, just because, you know, baseball traditionally has always been a man's sport. You see that in the way the clubhouse is designed, so I have to think about things that men don't have to think about. Walking into the locker room, making sure everyone's decent, you know, kind of giving them their space. But I've learned. There's a rhythm to it.