Spanish broadcasts an Astros tradition
Club's commitment to Hispanic fans goes back 40 years
HOUSTON -- The history of baseball games broadcast in Spanish runs deep in this part of Texas.
From the voices of the past -- Rene Cardenas and Orlando Sanchez Diago -- to the voices of the present -- Alex Trevino and Francisco Ruiz -- the Astros have been on the forefront in the industry for more than 40 years.
And they show no signs of slowing down.
"We are one of the few teams that has broadcast consistently for more than 15 years," said Rosie Hernandez, the Astros vice president of marketing who is in charge of Spanish radio programming. "We cover home games, and we recreate the aura of games when [the] team is on the road. Our guys do a fantastic job. We are starting to reap the fruits of our labor for any team that has high concentration of Hispanics in a city to benefit."
The Astros, like many clubs who broadcast baseball games in Spanish, maintain their broadcasting rights and are partnered with Univision Radio. Such a union provides exposure on the conglomerate stations, a ready-made sales staff and a split in the revenue generated. The Houston club assists in the bottom line, and in reaching fans by launching its own Hispanic initiatives and advertising campaigns.
"A lot of teams, with exception of Los Angeles and Miami, will say Spanish broadcasting to them is not very profitable, and I say, 'Shame on you for not getting your broadcasters out in the community and not getting your players out in the community,'" Hernandez said.
"If you do that, it's a win-win and it will be profitable. You need to build it and nurture it. It won't grow by itself, and it won't grow overnight."
The Astros have 15 sponsors for their Spanish radio broadcast, including some major sponsors who want to fund only the Spanish broadcast. Additionally, the percentage of Hispanic fans who attend Astros games has risen from 10 percent in 1999 while in the Astrodome to 25 percent this season at Minute Maid Park.
Part of the reason for the growth is the market, along with the club's commitment to the Spanish broadcast and its use of the broadcasters as a vehicle to reach fans in the community. Astros.com, Spanish publications and other initiatives are also tools the club uses to reach its target audience.
"Some immediately associate the Hispanic consumer as being frugal and being a consumer that cannot afford the good things in life, which is not true," Hernandez said. "It is true in some instances because of immigrants who come trying to make a [better] life, but there is also an immigrant population that comes with dollars to spend. There are also second- and third-generation populations that are coming of age economically that emphasize family events and entertainment and creating memories for the family. What is better family entertainment than [a] good old-fashioned baseball game?"
Recent endeavors are a continuation of the past. The club's commitment to the Spanish broadcast dates to 1962, when club owner Judge Roy Hofheinz hired Cardenas away from the Los Angeles Dodgers to be his director of Spanish broadcasting for all events.
"We actually produced the radio and television in those days," said Fred Hofheinz, the Judge's son. "We had our own crews and own announcers, and it was very revolutionary. We came into the league as the Colt 45s, but we rivaled the Mets in terms of income."
There were challenges, however. Finding Cardenas a partner was not a problem. Getting his partner to Houston from Cuba via Venezuela was.
"When we moved to the Astrodome, my Dad was told about Orlando Diago being the voice of Latin America and how bad he wanted to work with Rene," Hofheinz said. "Orlando was stuck in Venezuela, so my Dad called an old friend of his at the White House named Lyndon Johnson and arranged for a special visa. The rest is history."
History, indeed. But the voices of the present belong to Trevino, a former Astros player, and Ruiz, a longtime broadcaster in the United States and Mexico.
"This is a lot of fun," Trevino said. "After I finished my career, I was looking for the next chapter of my life, and I had a lot of offers. I wanted to do what was best for me, and this is it. I have spent more than half of my life playing professional baseball. This keeps the baseball routine going in my life."
Rivera has 30 years of radio experience and almost 20 years with the Astros organization, including calling games in Spanish for Houston's Triple-A club for five years. He joined the big-league club in 1993.
If he could change one thing about the broadcast, it be the addition of traveling to road games. Although he is proud of the production made from the studio, Rivera longs to call away games from a corresponding stadium, just like his English counterparts.
He might get his wish.
"I think it's important for our Spanish broadcasters to travel," Hernandez said. "I think once the high quality of the broadcast is achieved, the next step is to bring in more dollars from sponsors and showing it's a first-class operation as good or better than the English. After that, they travel."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.