Billy Russo: The first Venezuelan big league sportswriter

By César Augusto Márquez

Billy Russo was nine years old when he signed his first “contract” with the Chicago White Sox. In what was a kid’s game, he wrote on a sheet of paper what supposedly was a contract from the White Sox to play in the majors.

Now 25 years later, he still defends the black and white colors, but not on the diamond. He’s in the office these days, working as the White Sox manager of Spanish communications and team interpreter. He also comments on the team on a nightly basis through Spanish radio.

Childhood Dreams

Russo’s road to the majors began at four years old in San Antonio de los Altos, Miranda, Venezuela. That’s when baseball started to become a lifestyle for him.

“Since I was a child, like many others, I dreamed of reaching the majors,” he said. “I played on different levels when players start signing with different organizations. I always dreamed of baseball. At nine years old I wrote a contract imagining that the White Sox were extending me an offer.

“I liked the team because of Ozzie Guillén and Wilson Alvarez, two of the most accomplished Venezuelans of the early 90s. It was the luck of a premonition, without knowing what would happen later.”

By “reaching” the majors, Russo has achieved his dream of working professionally. He even attended professional tryouts in pursuit of that dream.

“I was a second baseman and shortstop without much power or contact,” he said. “Moreover, I wasn’t very tall at 5-foot-6. Even though I attended tryouts given by the Houston Astros and Oakland A’s, I found out that I wouldn’t play baseball professionally.

“But my dream of reaching the majors remained intact. I just looked for another avenue to get there.”

A Writer’s Route to the Big Leagues

Journalism was the road that he began to take. A year and a half into his studying for his Communications degree from the University of Santa Maria in Caracas, Russo heard from a professor that the El Universal newspaper sought students to work in the baseball section.

It was his professor Eugenio Martínez who was also a journalist with El Universal who told him about the opportunity.

Working the Venezuelan baseball beat gave Russo initial writing experience while witnessing big moments in the Venezuelan circuit.

“It was one of the most beatiful experience I’ve ever had. I was on the field in the José Pérez Colmenares de Maracay stadium when Henry Blanco’s hit fell just over the head of Erick Aybar when the Leones of Caracas won the Caribbean Series in 2006. I was also there when the Tigres de Aragua won the Caribbean Series championship in 2009.”

Those experiences inspired him to continue to dream about getting to the big leagues, but this time as a journalist.

The Road to the Majors

By the end of his 20s he was already one of the most well-known sports journalists in Venezuela. In 2009 he traveled to Chicago to study English and serve as a correspondent for El Universal. That’s when he developed a relationship with Venezuelan and Chicago Southside favorite Guillén.

“I went to the stadium frequently,” he said. “By working for a Venezuelan media outlet, Ozzie was one of my principal sources. We started to develop a professional relationship, which later became a friendship.

“I’m grateful that he introduced me to the Chicago White Sox executives who slowly learned about my work. Then in 2015 we worked out a full-time job.”

Reaching the majors wasn’t his only motivation to leave Venezuela. He notes that the political and social situation and safety concerns were perhaps his major reasons he found it impossible to think of a future in Venezuela long term.

“Once here in the United States I feel that my cultural background as a Latino opened doors for me, especially since MLB opened doors for Latinos in these new roles,” he said.

The Journalist Becomes the News

Russo admits that he doesn’t feel very comfortable being the news. At the end of the day journalists like to be behind the scenes not as protagonists. Nonetheless, his family is happy to see his sacrifices have produced positive results.

“This job is a passion,” he said.  “Nonetheless, it requires the sacrifice of being far from family and my wife Beatriz, who I see every time we return from the road,” he said. “One of the most gratifying things of this job is that through the team’s Spanish broadcast my family can hear me almost every day speaking and commenting about their passion, which obviously is baseball.

“My mother doesn’t miss a broadcast. My nephews get excited and say, ‘That’s my tio Billy.’”

Still Dreaming Big

This year Russo was named to the magazine “Negocios Now” list of 40 under 40 Most Influential Latinos in Chicago. He was humbled by the honor, which was celebrated in his hometown in Venezuela.

“I feel honored to have been at that celebration, which I accept with humility,” he said. “But at my home in San Antonio de los Altos they celebrated with a fiesta.”

Russo has achieved a dream he once had as a nine-year-old. What’s next?

“I want to keep learning and growing professionally,” he said. “And of course I want a World Series ring, which what everybody who works in the majors dreams about.”

Featured Image: Chicago White Sox


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