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The amazing backstory of Jaime Jarrín: Spanish voice of the Dodgers

Jaime Jarrin

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Los Angeles Dodgers Spanish language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin is interviewed before a ceremony honoring his 50 years with the Dodgers before a game against the Chicago White Sox on June 24, 2008 at Dodger Stadium.

He's a Hall of Fame broadcaster, who like his colleague Vin Scully, has elevated the profession to an art form. Jaime Jarrín  is the Spanish voice of the Dodgers and he's been calling games for the team for 55 years. While Jarrín's trademark style is familiar to legions of Spanish-speaking and bilingual fans, there's much more to his story. Like, for example, he used to play soccer as a student in his native Ecuador.

“In Quito, we don’t play baseball at all," Jarrín said earlier this week, as he prepared for a game at Dodger Stadium. "In Guayaquil we play some baseball, but in Quito, nothing. Before coming to this country, I had never seen a baseball game in my life.”

How did a former high school soccer player from Ecuador become one of the most recognized voices in Major League Baseball? His story began like that of countless other immigrants from Latin America: A young man with dreams, and a trip north.

Jarrín was a radio journalist in Quito in 1955, when he decided to try his luck in the U.S., hoping for a career in American radio or television. Back then, a cheap way to get here from South America was on a freighter – in Jarrín’s case, literally a banana boat, through the Panama canal.

“I came in a big German ship,'" he said, "that was full with a hundred thousand bunches of bananas, and we were about 40 passengers.”
 
The freighter landed in Florida and Jarrín quickly left for Los Angeles. He tried – at first unsuccessfully - to get radio work at KWKW, at the time the only Spanish-language radio outlet in the state, he said. Instead, he ended up making metal fences in an East L.A. factory, taking English classes in his spare time.
 
It was during his first autumn in L.A. that Jarrín got his initial taste of baseball. He said he noticed people standing transfixed in front of a storefront window, watching something intently on a television set. It was the World Series.

“I thought, my goodness, that must be something very, very special," Jarrín said, "because everybody was paralyzed here, watching the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers.”
 
This piqued his interest in the classic American pastime and Jarrín began attending local minor league games in his spare time. It served him well. Before long, he was hired at KWKW – and not long after that, the Dodgers came to L.A.

Jarrin was drafted to cover Dodger games in 1958 and was given a year to study the sport. When he was ready, he began calling the games - and he hasn’t stopped since.

In the intervening years, Jarrín has become known for his unique style, spirited but even-keeled, elegant in a way that verges on the poetic. Like the way he calls a home run: “¡Se va, se va, se va, y despídala con un beso!” (Loose translation: “It is going, going, going, and kiss it goodbye!")

It's a phrase that has been etched into the minds of generations of fans. This week, sporting a blue Dodgers cap, lifelong fan, Luis Garcia of Paramount tried to do his best imitation of Jarrín, as he recalled listening to his broadcasts as a kid on his father's car radio.

"He always made it exciting," said Garcia, 38. "Every pitch and everything he explained about the game just made you get into the game, and excited about the game.  Even if you weren't watching it, you were listening to it and he made you feel like you were there, at the stadium."

Garcia is part of the Dodgers' steadily growing Latino fan base, something that Jarrín deserves a decent amount of credit for helping to build. In the late 1950's when he started, Latinos constituted a small minority among Dodgers fans; now, they represent 42 percent. Some fans lovingly refer to the team as “Los Doyers,” a term the team cannily trademarked a few years ago.

Jarrín says he's proud to see the way Latino players - and fans - have come to be represented in the MLB. Another thing he's proud of - his native language.

It's something that's reflected in his job. Jarrín says it bothers him when he hears other announcers mispronounce Latino players’ names. And he's not afraid to draw inspiration from the Spanish literary canon. During one recent game, he delivered an eloquent ode to the color blue - Dodger blue - that he says was inspired by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's "Ode to Federico Garcia Lorca."

Jarrín passed on his love of the Spanish language - that of Neruda, Lorca, and Cervantes - to his children. His son, Jorge Jarrín is the oldest. He and his mother followed his father to the United States. A former traffic reporter, Jorge now works as a broadcaster for the Dodgers in English, and has at times subbed for his dad in Spanish. He’s fully bilingual and gives his family credit for that.
 
“My father, when he would travel to Ecuador, he would bring back reading books in Spanish that were appropriate for our age at that time," Jorge said. "And my aunt would sit with us at the dinner table after dinner for an hour, an hour for myself and an hour for my younger brother, and we would have to read out loud for an hour, reading stories out loud in Spanish.”
 
Also passed along has been Jarrín's love of baseball, his acquired favorite sport. Jorge says he and his siblings grew up playing baseball and American football – and that his kids have grown up playing baseball, too. But they’re pretty much the only ones their famous grandfather has ever played the game with.
 
“We give him a hard time because he never had anyone show him how to throw a baseball properly," Jorge said. "So any time he has had to throw out a first pitch, and it’s happened a couple of times, we have to get together and work with him, and make sure he gets it right so that he’s comfortable and not nervous about it.”
 
Another little-known fact - Jarrín still loves the game he grew up with – soccer. He says he doesn't watch it as closely as he used to, but he has been cheering for the Ecuadorian team to qualify for the World Cup. Even so, he knows where his loyalty lies.

“It would be very difficult if you asked me, okay, today the Galaxy is playing here, and the Dodgers are playing here, where would you go? I don’t know," Jarrín said. "Probably, I would stick with baseball."

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