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RADIO | Around the Dial

Following a Legend

Angels announcers Ivan Lara and Jose Tolentino find a niche in the shadow of Dodger Hall of Famer Jarrin.

April 08, 1999|KEVIN BAXTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jaime Jarrin led a friend toward a quiet corner in the press box at Anaheim's Edison International Field, leaned against a wall and heaved a sigh. Here in the shadows, he figured, away from the excitement of last Friday's Dodger-Angel exhibition game going on below, he could enjoy a few minutes of peace and quiet.

But still they found him. First Bill Bavasi, the Anaheim Angels' energetic general manager, rushed over to shake his hand, followed by a stadium employee, who greeted Jarrin warmly in Spanish. Suddenly the line of fans and well-wishers--one that led him all the way to South America during the winter--was beginning to form again.

You think Mark McGwire left himself a tough act to follow this baseball season? What about Jarrin? Last summer, the Dodgers' longtime Spanish-language radio broadcaster was given the key to the city of Miami, presented with two lifetime achievement awards, had a street named after him in Florida and capped it all with enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

"It was unbelievable," he says. "It's still like a dream."

But in his native Ecuador, where more people know Roger Rabbit than Roger Maris, no one paid much attention until September, when Jarrin's name was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

"The star in Hollywood," Jarrin says with a shrug, "had more impact over there."

Over here, however, Jarrin's success has made him the standard against which all Spanish-language baseball broadcasters are measured. Which isn't to say there's much measuring going on, mind you: Only five major league clubs besides the Dodgers carry all their games on Spanish-language radio.

One of those teams is the Angels, which reinstated a full schedule of Spanish-language broadcasts last season after a six-year absence. In fact, the club's new owners were so anxious to reach out to Spanish-speaking baseball fans, they actually split the costs of the broadcasts with radio station XPRS-AM (1090) as part of a broad-based strategy to draw Latinos to the ballpark.

And in just one season, it's proven a worthwhile investment. The Angels say Latino attendance was up substantially last season. And the club's radio team of Ivan Lara and Jose Tolentino has received letters from newfound listeners from as far away as Hermosillo, capital of the Mexican state of Sonora.

"I don't think you can find any better team [of] broadcasters," says Daniel A. Patin, broadcast manager for the Angels. "Jaime Jarrin is a legend. I don't even want to compare to that. But what we have here and the following we're creating . . . I can't beat that."

For decades, the Dodgers' broadcast strategy has been built around a cult of personality. Vin Scully, the club's English-language announcer, has been with the organization for 50 years, longer than anyone else on the club's payroll. For many, Scully is Dodger baseball, and fans tune in simply to listen to his voice as much as they do to hear the game.

Ditto Jarrin, who joined the team in its second season of Spanish-language broadcasts in 1959 and has become among the most recognized Spanish-language media personalities in Southern California. As a result, Scully and Jarrin always go on the air alone, giving the club's broadcasts an intimate, conversational feel.

But tradition is not among the Angels' strong suits, so the club was able to take a chance and pair a radio novice in color analyst Tolentino with Lara, a veteran of seven seasons as the Spanish-language voice of the minor-league Tucson Toros. It's a gamble that has paid off big, as Tolentino's freshness and enthusiasm have proven a perfect balance to Lara's no-nonsense play-by-play call.

In contrast to the Dodgers' style, both Angels announcers work every pitch--Lara describing it and Tolentino analyzing it--in a word-heavy, informational style that leaves little room for dead air. In fact, there were times last season when they wound up stepping on each other's lines.

"Any time you're going to work with somebody [new]--especially with someone who doesn't have experience in radio--you're going to encounter situations like last year, when you're going to talk, the other person cuts you off," Lara says. "But for the most part . . . we did very well."

Which isn't to say they can't do better. Toward that end, Tolentino spent the winter listening to tapes of last season's broadcasts, breaking down each game just as he did during a 14-year playing career, which includes a season with the Houston Astros in 1991.

"[When] the game is over, you have to find out what you did wrong, why you did it wrong and how to fix it," he says.

"I think there's always room for improvement. Absolutely," Lara agrees. "I think [we] can do much better and, hopefully, this year we can become better as a team."

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