A few weeks ago on an ESPN Sunday night baseball telecast,
Braves rightfielder Brian Jordan hit a deep blast to
centerfield, prompting the announcer to exclaim, "¬°Digale que no
a esa pelota!" (Loose translation: "Say goodbye to that
baseball!"). Though the line may seem like a sports-highlights
anchor's labored attempt to create a catchphrase, in this case
it wasn't. It was the home run call of Ernesto Jerez, the
baseball play-by-play man on ESPN Deportes, ESPN's new
only-on-Sunday block of Spanish-language programming.
After a trial run last year, ESPN Deportes started again on
April 1 with four to six hours of coverage scheduled every
Sunday for the next year. Available in 11 million homes in the
U.S. through cable and satellite services, Deportes focuses on
baseball--this year's first broadcast, appropriately enough, was
the season opener between the Blue Jays and the Rangers from San
Juan--but includes pro football and boxing. There also are plans
for a Spanish-only SportsCenter (during which anchors could use
such catchphrases as "El hombre es on fire!").
All it takes is a glance at the most recent census figures to
show why ESPN started the service (and why Fox Sports also has
Spanish-language programming). The U.S.'s Hispanic population
increased by 58% in the last decade, to 35.3 million, and as
ESPN senior vice president of programming John Wildhack says,
"We looked at the diversity in baseball and football and saw an
opportunity to customize our programming."
Economic motives aside, ESPN Deportes is an excellent,
well-executed idea. On Sunday Night Baseball, the flagship
program, the team of Jerez (who's from the Dominican Republic)
and 15-season major league outfielder Candy Maldonado (a native
of Puerto Rico) provides solid game commentary while weaving in
background information about Hispanic players. The video is
separate from but the production values are similar to those of
the English-language Sunday Night Baseball. Interviews focus on
such Hispanic stars as Indians outfielder Juan Gonzalez, Braves
catcher Javy Lopez and Red Sox outfielder-DH Manny Ramirez.
After nearly two months of telecasts Maldonado is hearing
encouraging words not only from friends but also from players.
"When I tell them there's a program out there in Spanish,
they're happy," he says. "Now their people can watch and better
understand the game."
Understand it and cheer as each bambinaso (bomb) goes por la
calle (to the streets).
"When I tell [players] there's a program in Spanish, they're
happy," says Maldonado.