LOS ANGELES — As the only girl and the youngest among her siblings, Alicia Ayala, 53, grew up in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights, sharing a special connection with her dad, Raul, a die-hard Los Angeles Dodgers fan.
“We were Dodger blue since forever,” said Ayala, who would ride in the cargo bed of her dad’s white pickup truck to attend Dodgers games.
At the time, she and her family spoke exclusively in Spanish. The only way they could follow along with games was by tuning in to Jaime Jarrín’s play-by-play Spanish-language radio broadcast.
“If we were watching a baseball game, we were listening to Jaime Jarrín. It was just what we did,” Ayala said. “He was always on, always.”
Jarrín, now 86, is set to retire as the Dodgers’ Spanish-language broadcaster this year. His final broadcasts will take place as the Dodgers enter the postseason as one of the Major League Baseball World Series favorites with the league’s best overall record and the franchise’s best-ever season (111 wins and 51 losses).
Jarrín’s contract was the first Spanish-language broadcast contract in the MLB.
It marks the end of a career for Jarrín that spanned 64 seasons and one that saw major demographic and cultural shifts in Los Angeles and within the Dodgers fan base.
For Ayala, the end of his career also symbolizes a heartfelt final goodbye to her father, who died in December 2012. “In a lot of ways, hearing Jaime all this time kept me close to my dad,” she told NBC News in tears.
‘I am like Rocky Marciano’
Jarrín sat down at Dodger Stadium with NBC News correspondent and “Stay Tuned” co-host Gadi Schwartz to discuss his retirement, his impact on the city's Latino community and his plans for the next phase of his life.
Jarrín was scheduled to retire on Jaime Jarrín Day, on Oct. 1, when the Dodgers played the Colorado Rockies at home. But his retirement was delayed until the end of the postseason, in anticipation of another successful playoff run as the team qualified as the top seed in its division.
“I am like Rocky Marciano; I’m in my corner waiting for the bell to sound for the last round,” Jarrín told Schwartz jokingly.
During the interview and the day of his final regular season broadcast, Jarrín traded his traditional blazer for a Panamanian hat made in Montecristi, Ecuador, and a white track zip-up jacket from the professional Ecuadorian soccer team L.D.U. Quito — a nod to his home country.
He was also wearing a 1988 Dodgers World Series championship ring gifted to him by his good friend Orel Hershiser, the former Dodgers pitcher and World Series winner.
Though the Dodgers don't have any Ecuadorian players, Ecuadorian flags could be spotted across the stadium on Oct. 1. Fans brought them in honor of Jarrín. They know his voice and his famous phrase as he chronicled the games: "La pelota se va, se va, se va y despídala con un beso!” In English, it's "The ball is going, going, going and say goodbye to it with a kiss!"
Jarrín is an institution and in many ways a pioneer. He's known as the Spanish voice of the Dodgers, the Latino community’s Vin Scully.
Scully, the "voice of the Dodgers" who died in August, was the bridge for Jarrín inside the broadcast booth, as Jarrín became Scully's bridge to reach a growing Latino fan base.
“He was a titan in my profession, but he was my close friend,” Jarrín said of Scully. “I was so blessed to be probably the person that spent more time with him, because every day here at the ballpark we used to have dinner together and on the road we were always together.”
Jarrín’s kinship extended beyond Scully to fellow broadcasters who joined him in the Spanish broadcast booth through the years.
“I’ve spent nearly 30 years with him, ‘about half my career,’ Jaime likes to say to me,” said Pepe Yñiguez, a Spanish-language baseball broadcaster for the Dodgers who teamed up with Jarrín starting in 1999.
“We’ve shared many adventures,” Yñiguez said. “We’ve traveled on many long trips talking about how we got to this country and how we’ve navigated the experience.”
Reaching multigenerational and immigrant families
Jarrín was born in Cayambe, Ecuador, and worked as a reporter in Quito before moving to California in 1955 at age 20. He worked as a cafeteria busboy and studied English for a year before joining KWKW-AM (1330) — then the only full-time Spanish-language radio station in Los Angeles.
Within two years, he became director of the station’s news and sports department. When it was announced that the Dodgers would be moving west for the 1958 season, KWKW quickly cut a deal with the team to broadcast its games locally in Spanish, something no major league franchise had ever tried before.
Jarrín was given the role in the booth and had a short amount of time to familiarize himself with America’s pastime. He initially rebroadcast games in Spanish from Scully’s calls before the station sent him on the road.
“Many thousands of Latinos coming in from Mexico, from Central America, the Caribbean area, from South America, they didn’t care much about baseball,” Jarrín said. “Fernando Valenzuela and myself, I think we did our part to not only help the Dodgers in that regard but baseball in general.”
Jarrín estimated that Latinos now account for between 42% and 46% of all Dodgers fans. When he first started and the team occupied the L.A. Coliseum, that number was between 8% and 10%. Through the decades, the city's population grew, and so did its Latinos, who now account for almost half of the city’s population, according to the latest census data.
One of the factors that brought Latinos to Dodger Stadium was the arrival of pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, a former Mexican professional baseball pitcher most remembered for his stint with the Dodgers, helping them win a World Series championship in 1981.
Jarrín stepped up to the plate and helped bridge the language barrier between Valenzuela and mainstream news media outlets. Jarrín served as Valenzuela's interpreter, and “Fernandomania” encapsulated the city of L.A. and the country.
At his core, a traditional newsman
Even before he achieved fame as a baseball radio announcer, Jarrín's work as a Spanish-language radio reporter earned him a place in informing his community of crucial local and national events.
“Radio was the only medium for the community to be in touch with the rest of the country. So I took advantage of that,” Jarrín said.
Jarrín recalled arriving in Washington, D.C., to cover the assassination and funeral of President John F. Kennedy. “I was 20 feet away from where the body was laying there, when Mrs. Kennedy came in with her son,” Jarrín said.
It was his first visit to the nation’s capital. He recalled arriving at a rainy and cold Washington, filled with military guards, after receiving support to access press credentials and a radio signal from California’s first Mexican American member of Congress, Rep. Edward R. Roybal.
“I went to the cathedral where the procession was coming in, described everything that was going on, and then Arlington cemetery, so I was there when the procession came in. It was a very tough assignment, but I think it is the best I have had,” Jarrín said.
In addition to calling an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 Dodgers games, there are dozens of moments in Los Angeles history that Jarrín witnessed and reported on, including the Chicano Moratorium and the killing of journalist Ruben Salazar, presidential visits from Latin America, World Series games, and the 1984 Olympic Games.
This trust translated into some fascinating moments in his life, like being flown in a helicopter by the FBI from the KWKW parking lot to Los Angeles’ airport in 1972 after Ricardo Chavez Ortiz, a hijacker on a Frontier Airlines flight, demanded to speak with Jarrín from a place of trust and admiration.
His hard news coverage and his voice in the sports broadcast booth during some of the biggest moments in sports history — such as the final boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier III, billed as the “Thrilla in Manila” — cemented Jarrín’s place in many Latino homes.
While Jarrín feels physically and mentally well enough to continue broadcasting for two to four more years, he said “it’s the right time for me to hang the gloves.”
After retirement, he will remain with the Dodgers as an ambassador supporting the team's ties to the city's Latino community. Jarrín will also help manage the Jaime & Blanca Jarrín Foundation, in hopes to allocate at least 30 to 50 scholarships worth $10,000 each every year to students.
When it comes to honors, Jarrín’s trophy cabinet contains plenty. They include a 1988 induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the receipt of Ecuador's highest nonmilitary honor, the first Latino to win California broadcasters' Golden Mike Award, and others.
"I hope they remember me as a person who came from South America, who came from Ecuador at 19 years old without knowing much of the language, but who tried to prove himself and tried to do something for the community,” he said.
“Jaime Jarrín has been the first voice that I can remember as a kid,” said Jose Benito Garcia, 35, of Inglewood. He’s the “perfect person to personify what the immigrants and Latinos can bring to this country.”