by Susan Valot
The yellow, orange and blue seats at Dodger Stadium were nearly filled as the sun set on a warm Southern California day. Dodger fans ate Dodger dogs and cheered on their blue-and-white team. But behind home plate, in a small broadcast booth with an open view of the field, Jaime Jarrin made the call for Spanish-language radio.
Jarrin is a fixture with the Dodgers and is well known among the Spanish speaking community – a community that makes up about half of the Dodger fans at the stadium. Jarrin came to the U.S. from Argentina in 1955, when he was 19 years old. He landed a job as a news reporter at L.A.’s only Spanish-language radio station.
“And one day – it was just a common day – I was around the station, working, when the GM came,” Jarrin said. “He called all the employees to his office to give us the good news that he had signed a contract with the Dodgers to broadcast the Dodger games in Spanish. And looking at me – I was only 21 years old – he, looking at me, said, ‘I want YOU to be one of the two announcers.’ And I was shocked because I didn’t expect that.”
Jarrin grew up playing sports and covered championship boxing, but he’d never even seen a baseball game until he’d gotten to the U.S. So he spent a year watching the once-a-week baseball game on TV, studying the sport in books and going to minor league games around L.A. He started broadcasting Dodger games in Spanish in 1959, but it wasn’t exactly live.
“At the beginning, the first eight years, we used to listen to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett and we had a big tape with background noise going on full-time,” Jarrin said. “Then I had cartridges for a single, for a double, for a triple, for a home run, so I pushed the cartridge. We used to go almost simultaneously. Foul ball, foul ball, strike, strike, ball, ball. When they’d do a very difficult play, then I had to wait. Let’s say a triple, for instance, or a double with men on first and men on second. I had to wait until the play was over, then come up with the play.”
Efren Meza is a life-long Dodger fan. This season, he started as producer of the Spanish-language Dodger radio broadcasts…with Jarrin, the man whose voice he grew up with on his dad’s radio.
“Some of the terms that are used in baseball initially weren’t translated,” Meza said. “They were just kind of said in a Spanish accent. So home run would be ‘honron.’ So it took Jaime, one of the first broadcasters to actually bring up some of the terminology that we hear today. He called a home run a ‘quadrangular’ – you look at the bases, diamond, four angles, so that’s what he calls it. ‘Imparable’ would be a hit. If you translate it, it’s an ‘unstoppable,’ but it makes sense because the way he describes things. You can picture things happening when he’s talking.”
Meza says that’s how he learned the game.
Down in the stands below Jarrin’s perch in the press box, Spanish-speaking fans know him as an icon. Jose Barajas of East L.A. has been a Dodger fan since 1967.
“He’s knowledgeable, even though he’s Latino, like me, but he’s knowledgeable about baseball and also about the community,” Barajas said. ” He knows about the community and what’s going on. You know, he’s up to date.”
And, of course, Jarrin is known for his catch phrase by Dodger fans like Raul Torres and Alicia Perez of East L.A.
“Se va, se va y despidala con un beso!”
“Somebody hits a home run, he says ‘se va, se va,’ like, ‘it’s gone, gone,’ and then ‘say goodbye with a kiss,’” Perez said.
That catch phrase was printed on Dodger blue t-shirts handed out a few weeks ago on “Jaime Jarrin Night,” to honor the broadcaster at Dodger Stadium. Jarrin’s son, Jorge Jarrin, does Dodger play-by-play for Spanish-language TV. He says his dad’s impact goes beyond catch phrases and beyond the years Jarrin was translator for Dodger Fernando Valenzuela, during “Fernandomania” of the 1980s.
“He really embodies the American dream,” Jorge said. “An immigrant coming to this country, seeking to do better and getting this opportunity, making the most of it, opening the doors and proving, so that others could follow and step through, like myself, for that matter.”
Jaime Jarrin’s 76 years old now. But he says he feels good and doesn’t plan to retire – unless for some reason his contract is not renewed after this year.
“I think it depends on the Dodgers now,” he said. “I think I will, if they want, I will stay here as long as my body tells me [not] to stop.
And after more than 8,200 regular season games, 25 All-Star games, 20 World Series, plus a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Jaime Jarrin hopes that won’t be anytime soon.