Phillies’ interpreter showcases a longstanding Jewish heritage

Diego Ettedgui. Photo by Jon Marks

By Jon Marks

Clever Phillies fans will likely recognize his face. Some may even know his name.

But chances are, none of you have any idea that Diego Ettedgui, the Phillies’ Spanish interpreter, who does much more than translate the team’s Hispanic players from Spanish to English, comes from a wealthy Jewish family Tradition dates back more than 500 years.

The story of how 35-year-old Ettedgui, who grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, then came to the United States to study despite not knowing any English is in itself fascinating. But the story of the Ettedgui family, who started in Spain and then chose to leave rather than be converted to Catholicism, is legendary.

“My family name goes back a long way in Spain,” said Ettedgui, who was in the Phillies’ dugout before Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, a day before the team bought their World Series ticket. “Back then (in the Alhambra Decree of 1492) the Queen (Isabella) wanted everyone in Spain to become Catholic and said to people of other religions, ‘You either convert or you get out of here.’

“My family was one of those who said, ‘No, we’re not going to be Catholic. We are Jewish.” And they moved from Spain to northern Morocco to a city called Tétouan.”

Ettedgui isn’t exactly sure how long they stayed in Morocco, but some family members eventually decided to cross the Atlantic.

“Sometime between 1860 and 1870, my family moved to Venezuela from Morocco,” said Ettedgui, who joined the Phillies in 2016 when Major League Baseball began requiring teams to provide interpreters for its Hispanic players. “They were merchants and sold shoes, soap and other things.”

Apparently those left behind made such an impression on the community that a synagogue was built in their name. The Ettedgui Synagogue was built in Casablanca in 1920.

A plaque on the rebuilt Ettedgui Synagogue in Casablanca, Morocco
Courtesy of Diego Ettedgui

Before long, the city was destroyed by accident during an Allied bombardment during World War II. King Mohammed VI of Morocco rededicated the synagogue.

This story was told to young Diego while growing up in Caracas, where his great-grandfather Herman got him interested in sports.

“He was my role model,” said Ettedgui, who was 19 when his family sent him to school at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston before earning a degree in health management from Northeastern University. “From the day I was born he’s been pumping quite a bit of exercise into our veins (him and his younger sister Ana). He has done a lot for Venezuela, playing football, baseball and track and field. He lived to almost 95 and he loved the Yankees, but one would hope he’s cheering for the Phillies now.”

Speaking of Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Kyle Schwarber, Zach Wheeler and co. How did Ettedgui find its way here to serve as an interpreter?

About a decade ago, Ettedgui realized that health management wasn’t for him and started looking for an alternative. After completing a communication course in Spanish with Colombian radio station Carlos Cabello, Cabello offered him the opportunity to do a sports feature on his radio show and subsequently helped him get a job at El Mundo Boston, the city’s Spanish newspaper.

It wasn’t long before Ettedgui became the newspaper’s sports editor, covering not only the Red Sox but also the Celtics and Revolution football teams. This whetted his appetite for more, and when Baseball hired interpreters for its Spanish players in 2016, Ettedgui went for it.

Of course, when the Phillies called, he first went to the Red Sox and applied for a job. The team flew him to Clearwater for spring training and he impressed them enough to offer him the job. Since the Red Sox were still undecided, he accepted their offer and moved to Philadelphia.

Seven seasons later, Jorge Alfaro, Andres Blanco, Odubel Herrera and Freddie Galvis, the Spanish-speaking players who were there when he arrived, are gone. The current group consists of pitchers Rangers Suarez and Jose Alvarado and utility infielder Edmundo Sosa.

While his main role is to translate interviews for the players and attend the pre-game strategy briefings with the batting and pitching coaches to help them understand how to line up specific batsmen or how to position themselves in the Positioned in defense, there’s a lot more to the job.

“I help out with batting practice,” said Ettedgui, who grew up in Caracas, where he played baseball and soccer, where his school’s biggest rival was Collegio Hebraica. “I catch shots in the outfield and throw with the pitchers, and I’m Seranthony Dominguez’s catching partner.

“During the game, I am responsible for the pitch coms (the device the catcher uses to signal the pitcher for pitches). I’ll message (manager) Rob Thomson when a new pitcher comes in.”

He’s also busy outside the lines: helping players understand contracts, accompanying them to doctor’s appointments, to the bank, to the car dealership and to public appearances.

And sometimes he goes to school with the Phillie Phanatic.

“They have started a Phanatic Reading program in schools,” said Ettedgui, who became a Spanish citizen last year due to his family’s Sephardic Jewish connection. “When we go to schools with Latino children, sometimes the parents don’t speak English. So when we roll out the reading program with the Phanatic, they need this letter in Spanish.”

Jon Marks is a freelance writer.

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