- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 28, 2008

Amigos. Que tal! And with those words from Luciano Rodriguez, the inaugural Spanish-language radio broadcast of Washington Nationals games locally kicked off last night in the series opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park. All games will air on WZHF AM-1390 and MLB Radio, and WMET AM-1160 will broadcast on Saturdays with some games also on XM Channel 174.

There’s something almost musical about listening to baseball on the radio in Spanish. The late and great George Carlin did a great imitation of baseball in Spanish on the radio (two balls and two strikes, “dos y dos”), and how, even if you didn’t understand the language, you had a good idea of what was going on by the sound of the announcer’s voice.

There is a passion to it, and, with all due respect to the fine work Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler do on Nationals radio broadcasts, there seems to be more banging and zooming going on when you listen to the game in Spanish.

“I think it is a step in the right direction,” said Nationals manager Manny Acta, born and raised in the Dominican Republic.”There are about 600,000 Spanish-speaking people in this area, and though there are a lot of soccer fans, baseball is here to stay. We have a beautiful ballpark, and I think this will bring more fans here.”

There are Hispanic fans here to be had, with a population reaching perhaps as high as 1 million people if you consider the official and unofficial numbers. Fifteen years ago, another baseball team reached out to the Latin community in the District, and it was fitting that the Nationals played the Orioles for their first Spanish-speaking radio broadcast.

The last time baseball was heard in Spanish on the radio in Washington, it was Orioles games, and Rodriguez did those broadcasts as well.

Under team president Larry Lucchino, the Orioles, still working to secure their place in the Washington market at the time, began broadcasting their games in Spanish in 1993. What was unusual, though, was that the games were not heard in Baltimore. They were only heard in the District on AM-900, according to Rodriguez.

“The Orioles knew there was a good [Hispanic] market here,” Rodriguez said.

Peter Angelos took over the team after the 1993 season and those broadcasts stopped after the 1995 season.

Rodriguez is now back on the air as part of the Spanish Beisbol Network. His partners for Nationals broadcast are Angel Castillo from the Dominican Republic, who contributed to the Phillies’ Spanish language broadcasts, and Carlos Guillen from Venezuela, who has worked in the winter leagues there and was a CNN correspondent. They are excited about “Los Nacionales” becoming part of the Hispanic community in the area.

“There is a great Dominican community here in D.C. and in Prince George’s County,” Rodriguez said. “There are two Dominican softball leagues there, and there is a 10-team Mexican hardball league in Prince George’s County, too. There are people from Panama, Venezuela and others. Salvadorans living here want their kids to grow up playing baseball, and there are a lot of Salvadoran kids here playing the game.

“Now a lot more of these people will be in touch with the Nationals and what they are doing, not just on the field, but in the community, with the baseball clinics for kids and other things. There will be more marketing now for the Hispanic community.”

Nationals president Stan Kasten said it’s about “reaching customers, reaching a different group that is very, very important to use. We have a very large Hispanic population in this area, with people from about 30 countries represented. The only way to reach all of them, the common way, is through their language. We know baseball is very popular throughout Latin America. We reach out to these customers through our Spanish Web site and now these Spanish broadcasts.”

The trio will do all the home games and travel to do East Coast road games. For longer distance road trips, the announcing team will be in a studio in the District doing commentary while watching a live video feed, with the sounds coming live from the ballpark.

In the near future, Hispanic fans can get the broadcast on MASN, where the SAP feature is available - a custom old-time fans are familiar with, according to Rodriguez.

“Spanish people would turn the sound down on the television and turn up the game on the radio,” he said. “That is what people used to do, because with radio you get more description.”

Yes, you do, especially on Spanish radio. Dos y dos sounds a lot more fun than two and two.

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