This story first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Guideposts.
I’m thrilled to be working next to you in the press box, right behind home plate, with an unbelievable view not only of the ball field but of the San Gabriel Mountains. It’s not what I ever expected. Still, I’ve always believed, like you, that God has a plan for us. Who knew that it would be up here in Dodger Stadium, the two of us calling games together on the radio?
You’ve done this for 57 years as the Spanish voice of the Dodgers, work that’s earned you a berth in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The only other radio announcer who’s been at it any longer is your old friend and fellow Hall of Famer Vin Scully. But he knew a thing or two about major league baseball, having started with the Dodgers back when they were in Brooklyn. You were pretty clueless at the beginning.
I love the story about the first game you ever saw. You hadn’t been here a year and you were working at a chain-link-fencing factory to make ends meet while searching for your chance in radio. One October day you saw a big crowd gathered around a department-store window in downtown L.A. What were they looking at?
You gazed over a few heads and saw something on a black-and-white TV, a diamond-shaped patch of grass with four bases, then heard that unmistakable sound: the crack of a bat and the roar of the crowd. You loved it. It was the 1955 World Series, the New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers. You never guessed that three years later the Dodgers would be in L.A. and you’d be announcing their games for Spanish-speaking fans.
I have to thank those missionaries back in Ecuador who urged you to come to America and who sponsored you. It must have taken a lot of courage on your part. After all, you had a good life in Ecuador and a pretty secure future.
You started working at station HCJB in Quito when you were only a teenager, doing the news on “The Voice of the Andes.” The station had been founded by American missionaries and was one of the biggest in the world, reaching a huge swath of South America. But you yearned for something more, prayed for it.
I was only a month old when you left for America. Mom and I stayed behind. It was a rough trip on a cargo ship—a banana boat, as you called it—up through the Panama Canal and to Florida. How glad you were to be on solid ground again. But where next? You flipped a coin: heads it would be New York, tails L.A. It came up tails and soon you were on a Greyhound bus to California.
By the time Mom and I moved here to be with you, you were working for the one and only Spanish-language station in L.A. One day your boss called you into his office and told you he wanted you to announce the games for this new baseball team.
“But I don’t know anything about baseball,” you said.
“You can learn,” he said. And you did, fast, going to see every minor league game you could. By the time you broadcast your first game from the L.A. Coliseum, in 1958, you were up to speed.
My friends thought it was pretty cool to have a dad at the ballpark. But there were a lot of times I missed you. There was a father-son dinner in second grade and you couldn’t come—you had a game that night. I tagged along with another boy and his dad, but it wasn’t the same without you. I didn’t even go the next year.
I learned a lot about the sacrifices a father sometimes has to make; I had to make some myself when I was raising my own boys. Even when you couldn’t be there, your presence was strong. I knew that wherever you were, you were doing something for me and my brothers, working hard to give us opportunities you didn’t have.
I watched you like a hawk when I did get to be in the press box with you. I saw how you paused before every broadcast and closed your eyes for a moment. Later you told me you were praying: Lord, give me the ability to communicate all that I’m seeing…. It’s a prayer you still make before every game. You also explained that you weren’t the star. “It’s all about the game,” you said. “I have to be the eyes and ears of everybody listening.”
In those early days, you occasionally had some help with the “ears” part. Back then you didn’t go on the road with the Dodgers but announced their away games from the studio. Vin Scully would call you before the first pitch was thrown and give you some details you could use later: “Jaime, there’s a slight breeze blowing today, coming from the west. Rain is expected later and there’s a big crowd in the stadium….” Then you’d take what he said and do your broadcasts from his play-by-play.
You had a technician who added some verisimilitude with prerecorded sound effects. He had a whole library of them, everything from a foul tip to a home run. I hope you’ve forgotten about the time I visited the studio and sampled some of those sound-effect tapes. Trouble was, I didn’t know exactly where to put all those cassettes back. The tech guy was furious. You told Mom I wasn’t allowed back. Ever.
You’ve got a forgiving heart, Dad. Like all good fathers.
I’m grateful that you made sure I kept up my Spanish. Every night you had me read out loud in Spanish to Mom and my aunt. You also made sure I learned my math. In fifth grade, I had a terrible time with my times tables. “Jorge,” my teacher told me, “you have to practice with flash cards every night.”
“I can’t,” I said, hoping for some leniency. “That’s when my dad makes me practice my Spanish.”
“Tell him you will practice multiplication too.”
Right out of college I went into advertising and PR, working for the ’84 Olympics. It was almost by accident that I became a radio broadcaster. Then again, maybe those accidents aren’t really accidents but chances we’re given to use our gifts.
I was interviewed on KABC about the Olympics and some bigwig at the station heard me and called me in, asking if I’d consider being an announcer. KABC needed someone to do the traffic reports. Would I be interested? Would I ever! (Okay, Dad, I probably got some of your gift of gab. I also had to learn on the go, like you.)
For 25 years I was Captain Jorge, flying in a helicopter at rush hour above L.A.’s congested freeways, letting commuters know where there were accidents and tie-ups to be avoided. I had a God’s-eye view of our city through good times and bad, and I said a few prayers of my own, like during the 1992 riots or when a tremor sent up a cloud of dust in the hills.
I could always tell if there was an earthquake because all drivers would step on the brakes at once. I could see the red lights up and down the freeways.
Your advice, Dad, came in handy. It wasn’t about me. It was about my listeners. I needed to be their eyes.
After KABC, I did some work for the Dodgers in their advertising department and went on TV, doing the home games in Spanish. Did I tell you my fellow broadcaster Manny Mota and I would take a page out of your book, Dad, and say a prayer before we went live? “Thanks, Lord, for this opportunity,” we’d say together. “Now let us make the most of it.”
It was only this past winter that the head of the Dodgers, your boss and mine, called me in and asked if I’d do something else. “You know,” he said, “we hope your dad keeps announcing the games forever, but if he ever wants to retire, we’d like to be ready. Would you do the games with him, sharing the play-by-play?”
I hesitated. I didn’t want to step on your turf. For all your humility, Dad, you really are a star. You’re the Hall of Famer. “What does Dad think?” I asked.
“So am I.”
Not every father and son would want to work this closely together, but it’s such a gift, such an opportunity, and I treasure every minute. I don’t want you to retire either, but if you ever do, you’ll still be with me, in the way you say things, in how you see things, in how the game and the listeners always come first, and the reminder you give me at the start of every game that our Father is looking out for us.
Thanks, Dad, for everything.
This story first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Guideposts.
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