Spanish broadcast vital to Padres
Ortega, Avila one of five tandems to travel to all road games
SAN DIEGO -- As a child growing up in Tijuana, Mexico, Eduardo Ortega was not the best baseball player on the block. He wasn't even the best in his family.
He knew it, and his brothers reminded him in the event he ever forgot.
"Oh, I was not very good at all," Ortega said. "I loved the game. I just wasn't very good at it."
So, a young Ortega would watch from the sidelines when he wasn't picked for a team -- or from the bench when he was -- and imitate the Padres' original Spanish radio broadcaster, Mario Thomas, calling a Major League game.
The pretending has stopped, and the baseball dream lives on. Ortega, 42, celebrated his 25th year calling Major League Baseball games in Spanish in 2005, and his 20th year broadcasting games for his beloved Padres.
Not being able to hit or field very well turned out to be a blessing.
"For me, it's a dream job because I grew up a Padres fan," Ortega said. "I work for the club, but it's something that does not feel like work. I always say the best job in baseball, if you are not the star of the game, is being a broadcaster. I love radio because you have to maintain the audience and be creative."
Ortega has partnered with analyst Juan Avila since 1998 to create one of the most recognizable tandems in Major League Baseball. The pair carries on a tradition that started with the Padres' first Spanish broadcast in 1969 with Thomas and his partner, Arnoldo Sanchez Fontes. Thomas also worked with Gilberto Delgado Lizarraga for one season in 1970 and with Gustavo Lopez Moreno for the next 22 seasons.
The long list of names to work with Thomas and the Padres includes Gustavo Lopez Moreno, Matias Santos Martinez, Rogelio Escobar Zaragoza, Jesus Rocha Barraza, Eduardo Valdez-Vizcarra, Rene Mora and Homobono Briceno. From 1986-1997, Ortega worked with Thomas, his idol.
Only the Los Angeles Dodgers (1959) and the Houston Astros (1965) have a longer tradition of broadcasting games in Spanish.
"I can't believe how lucky I am to be here at this job with Eduardo," Avila said. "Some of the most important broadcasters in Latin America have been here, and now here I am. I have a responsibility to do my best."
Avila's obligation is also personal. Avila is from Thomas' hometown of Mazatlan, Mexico, and grew up hearing glorious tales of Thomas' resounding voice. He also listened to another hometown hero, Valdez-Vizcarra, who broadcast games in Mazatlan for 30 years and also worked for a period with Thomas to form the most legendary broadcasting duo to come out of Mazatlan.
"I'm representing these guys," Avila said. "I'm doing the best job I can because these guys were the best, and they are from my hometown."
Avila is not one to mince his words. He says he strives for perfection because there is no room for error.
"We are so close to Mexico, your Spanish needs to be great, better than great. It has to be perfect," Avila said. "You have to have excellent knowledge of the game and knowledge of the language. If not, the people will let you know."
That's not the only reason to seek perfection. The Padres' Spanish broadcast is a strong vehicle used by the club to market initiatives into Baja California. Among the many goals sought by reaching into Mexico are selling tickets, bringing new fans to games and, of course, making a profit.
The Padres are one of a few teams that claim to make a profit on their Spanish radio broadcasts.
"We are the only baseball club with a border 20 minutes away, and we've taken ownership to include that area as part of our marketing effort," said Angelica Ortiz, the club's assistant director of marketing. "If people can hear or us watch us, we definitively have a captive audience. We can target them in various ways, traditional or non-traditional."
That's where gathered data plays a role. The Padres use an OMNIBUS Research study of Tijuana's population in 2004 as one of their tools. The study indicated that 41 percent of the Tijuana population are baseball fans and of that 41 percent, 51 percent have a border-crossing Visa. Within that group, 34 percent are Padres fans. Although it is challenging to estimate the club's profit generated from Mexico on a daily basis, the push to reach the markets could increase. However, efforts to reach a Spanish-speaking audience through a vehicle like Spanish radio broadcasts could increase across the league as well, not just in San Diego.
Hispanic buying power hit nearly $700 billion in 2004 and is expected to exceed $1 trillion by 2010, according to Hispanic Business Inc. Buying power -- personal disposable income, or after-tax income available for purchasing goods and services -- is a measure of the relative economic importance of a market segment.
"The Hispanic population is something every club has to be aware of," Padres owner John Moores said. "The markets are going to have to perceive the effect of the growing Hispanic population, which is very real. As economic power increases by Hispanics, it has to be reflected down the road by additional television and radio presence down the road. It will happen because that's where the dollars are, and marketing arms of every ballclub will continue to chase the dollar. It's about an enlightened self-interest by the clubs, and that follows dollars."
The club's commitment to the Spanish broadcast's potential to reach the market, generate revenue and provide a quality product to the fans are a few of the reasons Ortega and Avila call all 81 games at home and are one of only five broadcast teams to travel to all road 81 games. The Dodgers, Angels, Marlins and Rangers also have broadcasters who travel to every game.
"When you broadcast a game, you go into a home and you are part of the fans' families," Ortega said. "They listen with their moms and dads, sisters and brothers. That's a big responsibility and a privilege. That's why we do the best we can. People are listening to us."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.