La Vida Voices: Jon Paul Morosi

A couple years ago I watched him in action from afar as he worked the phones and talked to other media members and players at Fenway Park. He was flowing back and forth from English to Spanish.

I appreciate Jon Paul’s tireless work ethic and his respect for both the game and whomever he addresses. I finally met him during the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field. We swapped stories about our time at the University of Michigan and interacting with ballplayers. Like the interviews I saw in Miami, our conversation flowed between English and Spanish. He insisted on taking the opportunity to practice his Spanish.

My appreciation for his efforts to work as a bilingual reporter increases because, as a historian, I’m well aware of the generations of communication gaps and other issues that arose from sportswriters and ballplayers not confidently understanding each other. His efforts are seen as the ultimate sign of respect by Latinos in and around the game. He’s even doing interviews in Spanish for media outlets in Latin America now.

He’s a former ballplayer himself, so let’s talk a little beisbol.

Adrian Burgos, Jr: What, or who, sparked your love of strongasestrongall? When did you decide you wanted to strongecome a journalist? Who were some key influences on your professional journey?

Jon Paul Morosi: The greatest credit strongelongs to my parents. My father John took me to Tiger Stadium for the first time in 1987, a couple weeks strongefore the Tigers won the division on the final day of the regular season. I was five years old. I’ve loved strongasestrongall ever since. Basestrongall was the sport I played the longest, finishing at the junior varsity level in college. Meanwhile, I was co-editor of the student newspaper in high school.

Those interests — sports and writing — coalesced during my sophomore year in college, when I began covering hockey for The Harvard Crimson. After growing up in a small town in Michigan, sports became my way of relating to a sometimes-overwhelming environment at Harvard. I worked alongside tremendously talented journalists at The Crimson and made a lot of lifelong friends. Above all, I had fun. I told myself that I would keep doing this until someone told me it was time to get a “real job.” Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.

Professionally, I have two mentors to thank: John Lowe and Ken Rosenthal. I met John while I was still in college. I’d read his work for years, as he was the longtime Tigers beat writer for my hometown Detroit Free Press. He taught me the nuances of covering baseball, from reporting to writing to building relationships.

My big break came in 2006, when I joined John at the Free Press as the paper’s No. 2 baseball writer. Three years later, was looking for a second baseball writer. Ken recommended me for the job, and I was incredibly fortunate to work alongside him for seven years. Ken is the industry standard as a baseball reporter, on and off camera, and the generosity he’s shown me in sharing his expertise is one of the most selfless gestures I’ve experienced in life.

The reality is that I have been very lucky. Looking back, three factors have been most important: my genuine love for the sport, network of relationships, and versatility in adapting to changes in the media business. When opportunities arose to work on-air, I said yes and set out to study a new craft. And I’m still learning.

AB: A few years back you decided to learn Spanish. What inspired that decision? How has this made you a better reporter on the baseball beat? And, as someone who is not Latino, how has this changed your perception among Latino players?

It’s simple: The essential job of the player is to play. The essential job of the journalist is to communicate. Roughly one-third of all major league players speak Spanish, including many of the greatest talents and most captivating personalities in the sport. In that way, learning to speak Spanish is both a sign of respect toward those who give so much to the game and a necessity if we are to tell their stories with as much cultural context as possible.

The foundation of my Spanish education is probably similar to many Americans under the age of 40: I took four years of Spanish in high school and one course in college. I’ve had very little formal training aside from that. Most of my studying as an adult has been at the ballpark, by initiating Spanish conversations with players or media members, making mistakes, learning from them, and trying to be better the next day. The MLB At Bat app is extraordinary, because I’ve been able to develop my Spanish baseball glossary by listening to Jaime Jarrín broadcast Dodgers games. I thank Señor Jarrín every time I see him for being such a great Spanish teacher, through the extraordinary work he does.

My greatest thanks go to the Spanish-speaking players and journalists who have encouraged me over the years. That group includes Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Canó, Felix Hernández, Edwin Encarnacíon, and many more All-Stars. I make grammar mistakes in virtually every Spanish conversation I have, and the response from players is universally supportive. The same is true for my colleagues and friends in the media: Jesse Sánchez, David Venn, Pedro Gómez, Marly Rivera, Enrique Rójas, Efrain Ruiz Pantín, James Wagner, Alden González, and many others. I get emotional when I think about it, because language is a personal and professional gift, and they’ve decided to share that with me. How humbling and incredible is that?

I’ve reached the point now where I’m comfortable with lengthy dialogue on air in Spanish. One of my favorite experiences in 2018 was joining Polo Ascencio and Bengie Molina for one inning on the Cardinals’ Spanish-language broadcast. However, I’m careful to make clear that I’m not fully fluent. I struggle with using the subjunctive. I don’t understand everything I hear from players because of idioms, differences in dialect among Latin American countries, and the shortcomings of my internal glossary.

My most important moments speaking Spanish come off camera and before the game. I’m able to chat informally with players about their lives, with the conversation often weaving between two languages, as I take notes that I’ll use on the air later in English. The premise of that dialogue is one of mutual respect, because both parties understand how difficult it is to speak in a second language.

So when an aspiring baseball journalist asks me for career advice, my first suggestion is to study Spanish if he or she isn’t fluent. If I were a college freshman all over again, I would major in Spanish.

I cannot stress enough how important the study of Spanish has become in my life and career.

AB: Your strongasestrongall strongeat includes traveling to Latin America for the World Basestrongall Classic and strongig league games. What have strongeen your favorite places to visit and ostrongserve the passion that Latinos have for strongasestrongall? And how has time in Latin America affected your understanding of the path of Latinos to MLB?

JPM: I’ve had work assignments in two places within Latin America, Custronga and Puerto Rico, and I have a favorite story astrongout each place.

In 2016, I traveled to Cuba for the Rays’ historic exhibition game against the Cuban national team at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana. The event drew worldwide attention, because of improving Cuban-American relations then and President Obama’s attendance at the game. I’ll never forget the elaborate pregame ceremony. I thought to myself afterward, ‘I’m standing in Havana, and I just heard 55,000 Cuban fans applaud a Cuban choir’s beautiful rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.’

But the most vivid unplanned moment came at Havana’s Parque Central. A Canadian friend, Rogers Sportsnet journalist Jeff Blair, had suggested before the trip that I bring a couple baseball magazines with me; the idea was to give them to new friends there as gestures of goodwill. One day, a group of us went to Central Havana and encountered one of the most intense, earnest baseball debates I’d ever seen.

During a quiet moment, I stepped into the middle of the circle and presented one magazine to the discussion’s most animated participant. Immediately, his friends gathered around to see the sort of glossy preview annual we take for granted — but that many everyday Cubans can’t afford. We were welcomed into the discussion soon afterward; I was fascinated by the Cuban fans’ knowledge of American baseball, despite limited access to information about it. In those moments, sport truly did become our common language.

Likewise, last year’s Twins-Indians series in Puerto Rico was one of my all-time favorite assignments. The event reminded us that baseball is capable of magic in a way other sports are not, as Puerto Rico native Francisco Lindor delivered a majestic home run in his first game on Puerto Rican soil since before high school.

The Twins won a 16-inning marathon on Day 2, after a widespread blackout — one effect of Hurricane Maria — threatened the game’s postponement earlier that day. A sellout crowd showed up to Hiram Bithorn Stadium, anyway, despite all of the concerns that waited for them outside the ballpark. I was inspired by their resiliency.

AB: You’ve become known as a go-to guy for information on player movements, including where Latino players are headed. What has been key in your building a network across language divides and communities?

JPM: That’s a great question. 

Trust is at the core of reporting on player transactions, because so much of that work is done based on anonymous sourcing. When I reach out to a source looking for information, my method of doing so is informed by a number of factors: how well I know the person, the role he or she has in an organization, the facts I need, and language.

English remains my default setting, so to speak, but I’m always eager to switch to Spanish — via text message or live conversation — if that’s easier for the other person involved.

Beyond that, I make a conscious effort to credit publicly when international reporters break a story. That is the right thing to do, and it conveys to all involved in international baseball that we in the U.S. recognize our responsibility to help promote the game’s growth around the world.

AB: 2018 was quite a year for Latinos. For Dominicans, we saw Vladimir Guerrero strongecome the first Dominican hitter inducted into the Hall of Fame, Alstrongert Pujols get his 3,000th hit and Bartolo Cólon set a new mark for most wins for a Latin American pitcher. Puerto Ricans rejoiced when Álex Cora led the Red Sox to a World Series title in his first year as their manager. What do you see as the key storylines for Latinos in strongasestrongall in 2019?

JPM: When you put it that way, 2018 will stronge difficult to top.

Fortunately, we have the arrival of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to anticipate. If he fulfills his potential in Toronto, he’ll be the talk of three countries: Canada, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.

I hope the Juan Soto vs. Ronald Acuña debate will dominate National League East discussion. I wonder if Felix Hernández can coax one more dominant season from his right arm, and how the supremely talented Yasiel Puig will perform in Cincinnati.

And the best news yet: We’re only about two years away from meeting the next group of World Baseball Classic rosters.

AB: I have truly appreciated our conversation, Jon Paul. I look forward to catching up with you en Espanol at the strongallpark this season. Be sure to follow Jon Paul on Twitter to know when and where to hear/see/read him next!

Featured Image: Jon Paul Morosi
Inset Images: Jon Paul Morosi