La Vida Voices: Polo Ascencio

Polo Ascencio loved to listen to baseball games on the radio. Listening to games kept him company while he worked nights cleaning offices as a custodian in southern California. This is where the story of the Mexico immigrant took a fascinating departure from the norm.

Ascencio shared his passion for baseball and sports in general by calling in to sports radio shows during this period. The station decided to hire him as a regular contributor.

His knowledge, determination and engaging personality have enabled Ascencio to transform his passion into becoming the Spanish-language voice of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Ascencio visited La Vida Baseball Live recently and shared the incredible details of his journey from Tijuana, Mexico, to St. Louis.

La Vida Baseball: What sparked your love of baseball? What is it something passed down through your family?

Polo Ascencio: It’s a family thing. Growing up in Tijuana, and my mom doesn’t like it when I say this, but it’s true, we didn’t go to church every week. We didn’t go to church every Sunday like a lot of families do. But we did go to the baseball fields with my dad every week, every Sunday, the whole family, my four sisters, myself, my mom, my dad, then later, when my brother was born. Early morning Sundays, it was not, “Hey, hurry up. Let’s go to church.”

I like to say we went to the church of baseball. … Every Sunday morning, from basically being born until I was 12, 13 when my dad kind of stopped playing a little bit. That’s how my love for baseball started, and it turned into a career. Go figure.

LVB: Fernandomania was arguably the most significant player for Mexican baseball fans. How did his success inspire you and other Mexicans?

PA: My favorite player, period, MLB player, is Fernando Valenzuela. That’s it. That’s why I am who I am. If you know a little bit about my story, he not only had an impact on me as a child born and raised in Tijuana, Mexico, with a family that had nothing. My family, they’re all Padres fans. But when I was 6 years old, 1981 … when Fernando happened, it was crazy. For me, a little Mexican kid playing baseball up in El Cerro or anywhere else, I’m like, “Hey, that guy, he looks like me. He speaks like me. He speaks to me. I understand what he’s saying. I want to be like that guy.” That’s why when I fell in love with Fernando. I was in love with baseball already, but that’s when I fell in love with Fernando. And then after Fernando came my love for the Dodgers. So Fernando Valenzuela. No doubt.

While covering the World Baseball Classic in 2006, I had a chance to first take a picture with Fernando Valenzuela when he was the coach for the Mexican team. I just went up to him, “Fernando, can I take a picture?”  … I don’t know if you know Fernando but he’s a very nice person, a very nice guy, but at first he’s a little … extremely reserved. But he did, he took a picture with me. And I was like, whoa, OK, I took a picture with Fernando.

LVB: Your journey to the broadcast booth is a fascinating one. How did you get involved in broadcasting?

PA: So one thing which I always have with me [is] this radio. This radio has been with me for at least 12 years. This is the radio that I used to listen to Vin Scully and Jaime Jarrín when possible on the radio when I was a custodian cleaning offices. … Let’s just pretend that the guy who cleans your office is going to be the next broadcaster for the Cardinals. That was me. So when I’m cleaning your office, I’m listening to Jaime, I’m listening to Vin, and all kinds of different sports on this radio.

When I had my first big chance to do something with the Dodgers for Time Warner Cable, I put away my radio. I just put away my stuff and all that. And then, when I got this gig [with the Cardinals], this job, this amazing job, I don’t remember what I was looking for in my closet, and I see it there. So I say, you know what, you’re coming with me. So this is a reminder … A quote that I just came up with, and I don’t know if anybody else had it before, but if you have heard this before let me know. If not, I’m going to copyright this. This is a reminder of it doesn’t matter where you come from: “Don’t let where you come from stop you from where you want to get to.”

I was about 20 when I got to America, to the United States from Tijuana, and I started working with her dad as a carpet cleaner. After a few days of working with Mr. Castro, Ramon, she made me apply for a job that I didn’t want to apply, as a custodian for the Santa Barbara County Education Office. She’s like, “Apply for it.” I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tomorrow, tomorrow.” She’s like, “No, we’re going to go get the application right now. You’re going to apply for it and you’re going to go.”

When I was a custodian, on my radio, I would listen to nothing but sports, not even music. And then it was the local show in Santa Barbara, where I still live. I will call once in a while to talk about baseball and things that they didn’t talk about. We’re Latinos. We’re mostly a Mexican community there. Soccer. That’s what it is, fútbol. Fútbol and boxing. And that’s what they would talk about.

And those guys didn’t talk about baseball at all. So I would call and talk about baseball. And one day, they’re like “When you’re done, we want to talk to you.” I’m like, “Oh, they’re going to tell me not to call” because sometimes the calls would be like five, 10 minutes. Those guys would be quiet and I’m like, “Hey, me oyen? Me escuchan?” And they’ll be like “Yeah, we’re listening.” I’ll be like, “OK, OK.” Obviously all this is in Spanish.

After a while, they’re like, “Hey, we want you to call, but to be part of the show now.”

LVB: Jaime Jarrín was instrumental in your path to the broadcast booth. In fact, he once sent you a text that served as motivation for you. Share that story with us.

PA: A very well-written text, just like the person … It said, in Spanish, “Dear Polito,” He calls me Polito or Polo Polo or Polo Norte. I don’t mind it. When a Hall of Fame man gives you a nickname, you take it.

“Dear Polo, last night I was watching TV here at home in LA.” … This is during winter. There’s no MLB. “I was watching TV, flipping the channels, and I came across a baseball game. And it was Mexican winter ball. I start looking, watching. I love baseball. Then I start listening to this voice calling the game.” This is all in a text. I have the picture to prove it.

“I hear this voice. I know this voice. I know this voice. But this voice is different. This voice is nice. It goes up when it needs to go up. It goes down when it needs to go down. Who is this guy? I couldn’t figure it out. But then, the announcer said his name, and he said his name was Polo Ascencio. And he’s like, “Oh, I know Polo. I know him. That’s our Polo. That’s the Polo from the Dodgers.”

And then he just went on to tell me how good I was. He just said, “You are good at this. Don’t ever give up. I know that sometimes things are not the way we want them to be, but don’t ever give up. Keep going. You are meant to do this somewhere, somehow. If you need my help, let me know. I will do my best to help you get to where you want to get.”

LVB: You’re now part of the St. Louis Cardinals Spanish-language broadcast team along with Bengie Molina. What is it like working with Bengie?

PA: It’s starting to be one of those things where if they see him, “Hey, where’s Polo?” If they see me, “Where’s Bengie?” It’s interesting that I’m kind of the fourth Molina brother. The one without the ring. But I’m hopefully getting one soon.

So Sept.  15, Fiesta Cardinales special theme ticket. No, it’s not Star Wars, no it’s not Elvis or Pride Day. It’s the Bengie Molina and Polo Ascencio dual bobblehead. So if you want to see Bengie Molina and Polo Ascencio together all the time, buy your ticket and come to [St. Louis].

LVB: Thank you so much for sharing your stories. Polo Ascencio can be heard broadcasting Cardinals games on WIJR 880 “La Tremenda” in St. Louis, and you can follow him on Twitter at @poloascencio

Featured Image: Courtesy Polo Ascencio

Inset Images: Courtesy Polo Ascencio