Who is Shohei Ohtani's new interpreter with Dodgers? They call him 'Will the Thrill'

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts wore a grim expression while talking to reporters in Seoul last Wednesday.

The team had just fired interpreter Ippei Mizuhara, who had been accused by representatives of Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani of engaging in a “massive theft” of the Dodgers two-way player’s funds to allegedly pay off at least $4.5 million in debt to an illegal Orange County bookmaker.

After politely declining to answer several questions around the circumstances of the firing and then responding to one about Ohtani’s state of mind, Roberts was asked who would be taking over as the star player’s interpreter.

Roberts gave a three-word answer that was accompanied by a genuine smile.

“Will the Thrill,” he said.

Will Ireton has been the Dodgers’ performance operations manager since 2020, but many fans probably know him better by the nickname Roberts mentioned. It was emblazoned on the back of the Dodgers jersey he wore as the team’s interpreter for Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda from 2016-19.

Ireton has found himself thrust back into a similar role, at least temporarily, serving as Ohtani’s personal interpreter as well as the in-game interpreter for Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto. When Ohtani faced reporters Monday for the first time since the Mizuhara scandal broke, Ireton sat by his side, carefully jotting down the two-time American League MVP’s words and translating them into English.

Ireton was the one who translated Ohtani’s words: “I never bet on baseball or any other sports, or have never asked somebody to do on my behalf and I have never went through a bookmaker to bet on sports.”

“Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has told lies,” Ohtani said. “I never agreed to pay off the debt or make payments to the bookmaker.”

The following day, Roberts called Ireton “a secret weapon.”

“I’m telling you,” Roberts told reporters, “this guy is as selfless as a person as you’re gonna find.”

Ireton, 35, was born in Tokyo to a Japanese-American father and Spanish-Filipina mother. He came to the United States at age 15 and later was an infielder at Occidental College and Menlo College. He was also the latter school’s valedictorian for the class of 2012.

That same year he played for the Philippines national team in qualifiers for the World Baseball Classic, which led to a tryout with a Texas Rangers minor league affiliate. He didn’t make the team, but Ireton received an internship with the Rangers organization that allowed him to continue working in the sport he loved.

He then worked as an intern with the New York Yankees organization and briefly returned to Japan before landing the gig as Maeda’s translator in 2016. A “Backstage Dodgers” feature that season described Ireton as the “26th man on the 25-man roster, there to lift their spirits,” and added that the job title of interpreter “only begins to describe what he does for the team.”

Allowed to take part in certain drills during spring training, Ireton was dubbed “Will the Thrill” by Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman because of the effort he exerted during that time in the field.

“He is a thrill,” Dodgers utility player Kiké Hernandez told “Backstage Dodgers” in 2016. “It is a thrill to watch him every day. Not only is he the best translator in the league, but he’s also the best shagger on the team.”

Then-Dodgers infielder Justin Turner added of Ireton: “Everything he does is the max. He’s out there power shagging, trying to make plays and slide catches. It’s been fun to have him on the team.”

Ireton also was known to whip the team into a frenzy with his dugout dance moves and, on at least one occasion, by apparently lifting 405 pounds in a high-energy performance Maeda dubbed “Will’s Deadlift Challenge” in a pair of 2017 Instagram videos.

“When we first met Will, he was sort of laid back, a little bit shy and reserved,” Dodgers executive vice president and chief marketing officer Lon Rosen said in the same “Backstage Dodgers” feature. “But very quickly we got to see the real Will — Will the dancing machine.”

After Maeda was traded to the Minnesota Twins prior to the 2020 season, Ireton remained with the Dodgers organization. He spent a year as a player development coach for the Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City before returning to the big league club as performance operations manager.

Taking part in a panel discussion at the Japanese American National Museum last fall, Ireton said his job “in a nutshell basically is to be a touchpoint for every department” and sometimes requires 12-hour workdays during baseball season.

“I make sure that everything that the coaches and players need for that day, whether that be scouting materials or information from analytics to information we get from video — everything that the coaches and players need, I provide or make sure that I provide for them in a timely manner,” said Ireton, who added that he also plays a role in the scouting department.

Roberts, whose mother is Japanese and father is Black, took part in the same panel discussion.

“There’s always players coming from Japan and so he always liaises on stuff like that … and we count on him for a lot of things. He’s like a hired gun, so whether it’s the minor leagues, a potential draftee, a potential trade or stuff that internally for that night’s game or kind of looking or projecting down the road and establishing, you know, building on relationships that we have in Japan, he’s the point person for the Dodgers.”

Putting it more succinctly, Roberts said of Ireton: “He does everything for the Dodgers, believe me.”

Months later, those words ring true more than ever.

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