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This Is 30: Celebrating 30 Seasons of MLB on ESPN

ESPN Celebrates 30 Seasons of Innovation, Special Moments and Its Groundbreaking Partnership with MLB, While Looking Towards the Future

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year marks 30 seasons of Major League Baseball on ESPN. In 30 seasons, ESPN has been home to historic moments and state-of-the-art innovations in the sport of baseball. ESPN and Front Row are highlighting the evolution of the game, the most memorable stories and the most important ways ESPN and MLB have collaborated through the years.

¡Dígale que no a esa pelota!

This weekend is Cinco de Mayo, and ESPN and ESPN Deportes will be broadcasting its second game this season from Estadio De Beisbol Monterrey on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET as Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros “visit” Mike Trout and the Los Angeles Angels.

Ernesto Jerez, an Emmy-award winning broadcast journalist and play-by-play commentator for ESPN Deportes’ Sunday Night Baseball telecasts, has been a voice for ESPN’s Spanish-speaking audience since ESPN first began broadcasting MLB games in Spanish. This week, he shares why baseball is so significant to Latin American culture and how the game has evolved over the years that he’s covered it.

What is MLB’s significance to Latino fans?

Baseball is very important to the fans because it adds a way for them to enjoy their favorite pastime. No other league has more Latino players on their teams. I am from the Dominican Republic and always say that Dominicans have three sports: baseball, baseball, baseball. Fans feel proud when we tell them that over 30% of all players in baseball come Latin America. They also know that playing the sport is a way to get out of poverty and live a better life. And it is not only what they see on the field as players, we also have managers, scouts and at all levels in office. Baseball has benefited having such superstars in the game.

You’re known for your epic home run call…how has the catch phrase withstood the test of time?

I believe my home run call became so popular because first of all it is a home run and because it is totally different from what they were and still used to hearing. ESPN gave me the platform to be creative when the ball leaves the yard. It was very rewarding when Isaac Arias a child from Tamaulipas, Mexico playing in the Little League World Series said that a good home run call was “Díganle que no a esa pelota”. Viewers have also sent videos through social media with the new generation of fans (children) saying my call.

You’ve been with ESPN since the company started airing MLB in Spanish. How has the game and its fans evolved since then?

I think the nature of the game is pretty much the same with people watching games on TV, listening on the radio and going to the stadiums. I think fans, especially the young ones, have learned so much that is not just numbers. People want to know what players do off the field, the human element to understand a little bit more about their lives. I have been very impressed with players’ interests in the off season. Places they go, workout programs and things that go beyond the season. Again, I think I call games very different than I used to and that has a lot to do by how much information is out there for the fans.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time calling games for ESPN Deportes?

My favorite moment has to be when the Dominican Republic went undefeated to win the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The celebration in San Francisco was amazing and to see a huge Dominican flag on the field made me very proud. On a personal note, that final was in March and I had lost my father a month before in February. He loved baseball and the first thought that came to my mind was “boy, my father would have loved this”. I still get emotional thinking and talking about it.

How does having international MLB games, such as this Sunday’s game in Monterrey, help the sport and its diverse fan base?

Mexico has always been at the forefront of baseball without borders making sure everybody understands its commitment to the sport. They play baseball all year long and the one thing I would definitely love is to see more Mexicans reach MLB. From Héctor Espino to Fernando Valenzuela to Vinicio Castilla people in Mexico embrace players that have reached the highest level of the sport. You see people in the stands showing their jerseys and who their favorite players are. Nine innings of FIESTA!!!

¡Dígale que no a esa pelota!

Este fin de semana se celebra el Cinco de Mayo, y ESPN y ESPN Deportes transmitirán el segundo juego de la temporada desde el Estadio de Béisbol Monterrey a las 4 p.m. cuando José Altuve y los Houston Astros “visiten” a Mike Tout y a Los Ángeles Angels.

Ernesto Jerez, ganador del premio Emmy y comentarista de jugada a jugada en Sunday Night Baseball emitido por ESPN Deportes, ha sido la voz para la audiencia de habla hispana desde el inicio de las transmisiones de los juegos de la MLB en español a través de ESPN. Esta semana comparte lo que significa el béisbol para la cultura en Latinoamérica y la evolución del juego durante su carrera.

¿Cuál es la importancia de la MLB para los aficionados hispanos?

El béisbol es muy importante para los aficionados porque les ofrece otra manera de disfrutar su pasatiempo favorito. Ninguna otra liga tiene más jugadores latinos en sus equipos que esta. Yo soy de la República Dominicana, y siempre digo que los dominicanos tenemos tres pasatiempos: béisbol, béisbol y béisbol. La gente se llena de orgullo cuando les decimos que más del 30 % de los jugadores de béisbol proviene de Latinoamérica. Y saben que jugar este deporte es una manera de salir de la pobreza y tener una vida mejor. Y no se trata solo de los jugadores que ven en el terreno; también tenemos gerentes, cazatalentos y personal en todos los niveles de las oficinas. El béisbol se ha beneficiado de contar con estas superestrellas del juego.

Eres famoso por como narrarás un cuadrangular. ¿Por qué crees que perdura en el tiempo?

Creo que se hizo tan famosa, principalmente, porque es un cuadrangular, y también porque es totalmente diferente de lo que el público estaba acostumbrado a oír y continúa oyendo. ESPN me dio el espacio para ser creativo cuando la pelota sale del terreno. Fue sumamente reconfortante cuando Isaac Arias, un chico de Tamaulipas, México, que jugaba en la Serie Mundial de Pequeñas Ligas, dijo que una buena manera de cantar un cuadrangular era “Díganle que no a esa pelota”. Los espectadores también han enviado videos por las redes sociales con la nueva generación de aficionados (niños) usando mi frase.

Has estado con ESPN desde que la empresa comenzó a transmitir la MLB en español. Desde entonces, ¿cómo han evolucionado el juego y los aficionados?

Pienso que la naturaleza del juego sigue siendo, básicamente, la misma: la gente mira los juegos por TV, los escucha por la radio y va a los estadios. Creo que los aficionados, especialmente los más jóvenes, han aprendido tanto, que ya no se trata solo de números. La gente quiere saber qué hacen los jugadores fuera del terreno; quieren incorporar el elemento humano para conocer un poco más sobre sus vidas. Realmente me ha impactado mucho conocer los intereses de los jugadores fuera de la temporada. Los lugares que frecuentan, los programas de entrenamiento y aspectos que van más allá de la temporada. Yo ahora narro los partidos de forma muy diferente de como lo hacía antes, y eso tiene mucho que ver con la cantidad de información a la que tienen acceso los aficionados.

¿Cuá es tu recuerdo favorito de tu trabajo como narrador de MLB por ESPN Deportes?

Mi momento favorito fue cuando la República Dominicana salió invicta en el Clásico Mundial del Béisbol de 2013. La celebración en San Francisco fue espectacular, y me sentí profundamente orgulloso cuando vi una inmensa bandera dominicana flameando en el terreno. En lo personal, esa final fue en marzo y mi padre había fallecido un mes antes, en febrero. Él amaba el béisbol, y lo primero que pensé fue: “A mi padre le hubiera encantado este momento.” Aun me emociono al recordar y hablar de este momento.

¿Cómo ayuda al deporte y a su diversa base de aficionados tener juegos internacionales de la MLB, como el de este domingo en Monterrey?

México siempre ha estado a la cabeza del béisbol sin fronteras, asegurándose de que todos conozcan su compromiso con el deporte. Juegan béisbol todo el año, y lo que más me gustaría ver es a más mexicanos en la MLB. Desde Héctor Espino a Fernando Valenzuela y Vinicio Castilla, la gente de México celebra a sus jugadores que se han colocado en el máximo nivel del deporte. Ves a la gente en las gradas exhibiendo sus camisetas y orgullosos de sus jugadores favoritos. ¡Nueve entradas de FIESTA!

Celebrating a Barrier-Breaker

Our series continues with ESPN’s Claire Smith on the occasion of Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day, which includes a Monday Night doubleheader as the New York Mets face the Philadelphia Phillies at 7 p.m. ET and the Los Angeles Dodgers host the Cincinnati Reds at 10 p.m. on ESPN.

ESPN is commemorating the centennial year of Robinson’s birth with five cross-platform pieces that celebrate African-American baseball greats: essays on Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and the Negro Leagues. The features, voiced by Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, were written by Smith, the 2017 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner and ESPN baseball news editor.

“This is the centennial year of Jackie Robinson’s birth, and the celebration gives us the opportunity to see the impact of a man who was born 100 years ago,” Smith said. “When he took the step, he showed the nation how it could come together.”

By telling these stories with the voice of Sharon Robinson, Smith added, we are bringing our audience closer to Jackie and the other subjects, helping us understand the history that was set in motion by the legendary first baseman.

“When putting history in perspective,” Claire said, “nothing is more valuable than someone who witnessed the games and series, and someone who called these people ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad.’ Sharon lived this history. . . she learned to swim at Dodgertown, a place where people both black and white could live together in respect. . . her mother and brother are still living, and Sharon has picked up the baton for the whole family. She is what we should all aspire to be. . .  through her experiences, she is able to share how linked all of the figures in this moment of history are, and it’s beautiful. 

”ESPN’s position in sharing this story is unparalleled,” Smith said. “We are not just showing the games. We are using them as platforms to show the newsworthiness of Jackie Robinson’s story. There are modern-day managers like Dave Roberts seeing Jackie as a mentor today.

“Baseball takes one day to show the significance of this event, and our storytelling power is unparalleled in bringing Jackie’s story to our audience.”

The Jackie Robinson statue at Citi Field. (Scott Clarke / ESPN Images)
The Los Angeles Dodgers during pregame ceremonies prior to a regular season MLB Civil Rights game. (Scott Clarke / ESPN Images)

An Enduring Partnership

Our series begins with Bernadette McDonald, Senior Vice President, Broadcasting Operations at MLB, who has been working with ESPN since the very beginning of the partnership in 1990. McDonald shares her favorite memories, innovations and how ESPN and MLB complement each other.

What are some of your memories about the initial launch of Major League Baseball on ESPN?

I think back to the launch and how everything was a learning curve for all of us. From scheduling, to production planning, to blacking out club markets properly. The initial contract called for a six-game-a-week package with double-headers on Tuesdays and Fridays and single games on Sundays and Wednesdays, in addition to Opening Day and Holiday game coverage. We produced over 160 games each year. With so many details to communicate between MLB, ESPN and the then 26 (yes, 26) clubs, and without the convenience of smart phones and advanced email technology, the fax machine was our best friend.

What innovation stands out the most about ESPN’s 30 seasons of broadcasting Major League Baseball?

Wow, there have been so many innovations throughout the seasons from K-Zone to front row cam (pictured), but I think the one that stands out to me the most is the robotic on the backstop. From where MLB and ESPN started, going park by park to address concerns, and now, to see it as a standard camera in all baseball telecasts and the evolution of its usage to cover the game is remarkable.

How would you describe the broadcasting partnership between ESPN and Major League Baseball?

I think we complement each other tremendously. Baseball is a day to day part of life with ups and downs, magical memories and heartbreaking moments…and for 30 seasons, ESPN has been there every step of the way to capture the visuals that make this game so special. From Cal Ripken’s 2,131st consecutive game at Camden Yards, to the 50th Anniversary celebration of Jackie Robinson taking the field at Shea Stadium, to two historic trips to Cuba, to the last game at old Yankee Stadium, ESPN has partnered with us and narrated three decades of storytelling coverage of America’s pastime.

Chris Berman and Buck Martinez prior to Cal Ripken, Jr. surpassing Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played. (ESPN Images)
U.S. President Bill Clinton and Rachel Robinson are shown standing on the infield during "Jackie Robinson Night" in Shea Stadium back on April 15, 1997. (ESPN Images)
Bob Ley during Outside the Lines at the Tampa Bay Rays vs Cuban National Team spring training exhibition game. (Scott Clarke / ESPN Images)
New Yankee Stadium circa 2008. (Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images)

Emily Archacki produced the illustration.

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