Why I fell in love with baseball

By José de Jesús Ortiz

The incomparable Vin Scully understood, and that somewhat eases my conscience and further validates Dodgers Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrín’s place in my heart.

I fell in love with baseball as a child in Los Angeles because of Vin Scully and Jaime Jarrín. They are the voices of baseball for me, the English and Spanish voices that take this son of Mexican immigrants to a more innocent time.

A part of my youth faded when Scully retired after 67 seasons with the Dodgers at the end of last season. But the man who has taught baseball since 1959 to generations of Mexican, Mexican-American and Latinos in the greater Los Angeles area is still going strong at age 81 and in his 59th season with the club.

I’ve covered baseball for two decades, and there’s no doubt that Jarrín inspired me as a child to pursue this passion. Because of late Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley’s vision, Jarrín spread the Dodgers’ brand throughout Southern California. He guided us through Fernando Valenzuela’s magical 1981 NL Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year season, and he has kept us captivated ever since.

Nurturing and sustaining the fans’ love

If Fernandomanía captured my gente’s heart and made baseball fans out of folks who traditionally followed soccer, Jarrín’s calm tone and authoritative voice nurtured and sustained that love. His legacy is on display at every game at Dodger Stadium, where beautiful brown faces dot the stands and annually make the Dodgers among the biggest draws in baseball.

“While the Dodgers have made it a point to celebrate Don Jaime’s career on numerous occasions, I don’t think the magnitude of his contributions to the franchise have ever been fully appreciated,” Los Angeles Times columnist Dylan Hernández told me. “The story of his legacy is visible every night at Dodger Stadium.

“The team’s fan base is now about half Latino. And it was Don Jaime who first introduced the sport to this demographic,” Hernández added. “Take my father, for example. He moved here from El Salvador when he was 10. When he started following the Dodgers, he did so by listening to Don Jaime.”

Hernández and I are among only a handful of Latino sports columnists at major American newspapers. We both grew up in Los Angeles, where our immigrant fathers became baseball fans by listening to Jarrín, a fellow immigrant who was born in Cayambe, Ecuador, and learned baseball only after arriving in Los Angeles in 1955 at age 19.

As sacrilegious as it may sound to most fans, my dad often lowered the volume on Scully’s Dodger television broadcast in the late 1970s and 1980s so we could listen to Jarrín en español on the radio.

‘give them something in their own language’

Most baseball fans have a signature call that touches their hearts. Mine is Jarrín’s famous home run call.

¡La pelota se va, se va y se va! ¡Y despídala con un beso!” Jarrín would cry out when Ron Cey, Pedro Guerrero, Steve Garvey or any other Dodger of my youth sent a shot over the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium.

“The ball is going, it’s going, it’s going, and kiss it goodbye!”

A decade ago, I sat with Scully and Jarrín, both recipients of the Ford C. Frick Award, given annually by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to a broadcaster for major contributions to baseball. I confessed to them that my family often turned the volume down on Scully’s calls so that we could listen to Jarrín’s radio broadcast.

I made sure Scully knew that I turned the volume down only under my father’s orders. He nodded approvingly.

Jarrín told me back then, “To me, it pleases me to hear, like you said, ‘I grew up listening to you and my father used to listen to you, my mother listened to you.’ But in my case, we have created new baseball fans thanks to the Spanish broadcast because Mr. Walter O’Malley was the first one to realize how important the Spanish market was in Southern California.

“He was the one who said, ‘I’m going to give them something in their own language.’”

When I returned home that day, my dad didn’t ask me about any of the players. He just wanted to know if I met Don Jaime Jarrín. My dad beamed with pride when I told him how I made sure to tell Don Jaime what he meant to our family.

Ever since that day, Jarrín has always inquired about my parents when we see each other at a stadium, prompting me to call my dad to tell him that the legendary Jaime Jarrín asked about him.

Keeping the Dodgers afloat

There’s no telling where the Dodgers would be without Jarrín, but you cannot deny that his impact on the organization is felt daily. If you don’t believe me, just look at our gente in the crowd.

“The fans who listened to Don Jaime call Fernando’s games are now parents or grandparents, and their devotion to the team is something they have passed to the later generations,” Hernández said. “It’s hard to emphasize how important this was, and probably still is, to the franchise.

“It’s easy to forget now that the Dodgers are financial titans in the sport, but the team went through some really lean years under the ownership of FOX and Frank McCourt. Who kept the franchise afloat during those years? I’d argue it was the Latino fan base.”

The Dodgers can thank Valenzuela and Jarrín for drawing us to the franchise, and I’ll always be grateful that Jarrín nurtured my love of baseball.

José de Jesús Ortiz is a sports columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In 2015, he became the first Latino president of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Featured Image: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images Sport

Inset Image: Los Angeles Dodgers