Friday, April 10, 2009

Baseball acknowledges Spanish language

When the New York Yankees kicked off the 2009 season with a pair of exhibition games against the Chicago Cubs to open their new stadium, there was one detail of the broadcast that caught my attention then – and continues to remain in my mind today.

It was the angle of the television camera in center field that gives us that view from the pitcher’s back as he faces the batter. It also shows us the stands directly behind the catcher.

AS HAS BECOME common, the ballclubs now place little advertisements to promote themselves on the wall – so that all those television viewers will see it over and over and over again throughout the three hours or so of the game.

The Yankees chose to promote their website addresses – perhaps hoping that people will turn to the Internet and click on the team websites. But because of the exact angle of the camera, the web address that got prime billing was was off to the side, almost as though it was of lesser importance to the team.

Now the difference, for those of you who can’t figure out the obvious, is that is the main web site of the team, while is the Spanish-language translation.

All throughout the season, people watching Yankees games (and they get televised heavily, both on their local broadcasts in New York and nationally on ESPN and Fox) are going to get that constant reminder that the Yankees exist in Spanish too, and that there is a whole world of fans who will start rooting for the men in pinstripes, because they are being exposed to them on the Internet.

NOT THAT THIS is unique to the Yankees. Most teams have multilingual versions of their website. With the Seattle Mariners, the alternate versions are in Japanese (on account of the many Asians in the northwestern U.S.). I remember the old Montreal Expos, to whom the French-language version was the primary website – and the English site was the backup.

I find this encouraging because all too often, professional baseball clubs have tended to view Latin America as a source of hired help who might work more cheaply than U.S.-born ballplayers. Latinos themselves were too often not viewed, except to the degree that they fit into whatever demographics other fans of the game were in.

But at a time when some teams are worried about attendance declining for the next couple of years due to economic struggles, I guess even baseball teams now realize our money is just as green as anyone else’s.

It is with that in mind that I find it encouraging that the Chicago Cubs have worked out a deal to broadcast some of their games on the radio in Spanish. That’s in addition to the WGN-AM baseball broadcasts that are a staple of radio airplay throughout the Midwest.

BACK IN THE days when Sammy Sosa (the pride of the Dominican Republic) was the primary attraction of the Cubs, a Spanish-language broadcast could have brought in so many more fans that it would have made sense. But this season will be the first time in 14 years that any Cubs’ games will be available “en Español.”

I suppose it is a matter of “better late than never” for the Cubs.

But they’re hardly the leader in this field. The White Sox for years have had Spanish-language broadcasts of their games (I remember back in the days when the old All-Star shortstop Chico Carrasquel was the Spanish voice of “los Medias Blancas”).

In other sports, the Chicago Bears (los Osos) have included Spanish broadcasts of certain games they have played in recent years, while the Chicago Fire soccer team is unique in putting its primary radio broadcasts on a Spanish-language station.

FOR SOMEONE NOT able to make the trip out to southwest suburban Bridgeview to catch a Fire match, there is a chance for some games that the only broadcast available will be one “en Español.”

Now I will know something significant has occurred when the Chicago Blackhawks hockey games go on the air in Spanish. Hearing Canada’s game in the language of Mexico will be evidence to me that this is truly one North American continent (no matter how much that concept offends some people).

But at least the Cubs have come around.

Of their 162 games this season, 20 will be broadcast in Spanish.

CONSIDERING THAT THE Cubs represent a city that is just over one-quarter Latino (and one-sixth Mexican-America, to be specific) and is expected to be about one-third Latino by the year 2020, it only seems appropriate that there be some recognition of that in the way the Cubs present themselves to the public.

I doubt they want to be the team that is deliberately excluding a portion of the Chicago population from their fan base. In today’s day, teams can use all the fans they can get. There’s only one potential drawback to this. With the sometimes cloddy way the Cubs are known to play baseball, they’re now going to be exposing their losing trends to people in another language.

We will now hear many Spanish curses directed at “los Cachorros” for the way their shortstop bungled a ball that even they could have fielded. That’s going to be a lot of agony brought on this city, unless Latinos have enough sense to ignore the Cubs and root for the White Sox.

Then again, there are going to be those misplays on both sides of the city this year, which will edge Latino managers Ozzie Guillen and Lou Piniella a little closer to losing their minds for good. That’s just the way baseball is.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Things have changed a bit for Chicago sports teams in terms of exposing themselves to Spanish-speaking people (, compared to the way they were a few years ago.

Spanish-language angst will be on the rise due to misplays by the Chicago Cubs this season (

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