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, "�D�gale 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).