The 2008 baseball season gets a Spanish twist

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When people think of Latinos and sports, they picture a ball, two teams and lots of running around. The favorite game of many Latinos, however, is not soccer. This baseball season, Latino Communications Network (LCN) will broadcast 26 Twins games in Spanish on their radio stations KMNV AM 1400 and KMNQ AM 1470.

“Baseball has traditionally had a very large following among Latinos in the U.S. and Latin America,” said Alberto Monserrate, president and CEO of LCN.

“Many countries in Latin America and several cities in the US, like LA, New York and Miami, with large Latino populations, have a long tradition of listening to baseball through radio and we wanted to bring that tradition to the Twin Cities.”

“The broadcasts are not only in Spanish, but also have a sound and style that resemble broadcasts in Latin America. We are not just translating language but also culture,” added Monserrate. He said Alfonso Fernandez, the games’ announcer, has a long history of Spanish sports broadcasting. Former Twins right fielder Tony Oliva will provide play-by-play commentary and Gabriel Rios, Sports Commentator for LCN, completes the work with interviews and after game commentary.

“We’ve heard some good comments about the Twins games,” the station’s talent manager, Chano Rodriguez, said. “There’s a great response from the Spanish community.”

“The Twins’ increased outreach to Minnesota’s Latinos was encouraged by Twins officials as well as Latino community leaders.” Monserrate said.

The Twins’ Vice President of Marketing Patrick Klinger said: “We looked around and we saw the cultural landscape of Minnesota is changing. It’s not the homogenous, Scandinavian state that it once was.”

In order to reach out to the state’s growing minority populations, the team is hiring an emerging market manager whose sole responsibility will be building relationships with the Latino community. The Twins are the first major league team to take this step in building bridges with Latino and other minority communities.

The Minnesota Twins Community Fund has given grants to the Minneapolis and St. Paul Parks and Recreation Departments to fund two programs for young baseball enthusiasts. The Twins Rookie League for children age six to eight and Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI) program for older children have about 6,000 participants.

“The programs are designed to offer kids who ordinarily wouldn’t have a chance to play baseball an opportunity to do that,” Klinger said.

This interest in the community is not limited to the major leagues. Alex Cruz, head of operations for the Twin Cities’ Liga Hispana de Béisbol, is helping to bring the game to amateurs of all ages. The ten-year-old league holds games every Sunday at several fields throughout Minneapolis.

The league got a small start with a single team of Mexican immigrants.

“They came from Mexico and wanted to play baseball, so they went to the park and just played,” Cruz said. “They knew some more guys who wanted to play, so the whole thing started with 2 teams.”

The league has grown over the ten years since its start, introducing a midseason all-star game with the league’s top players at the Metrodome. There is also a little league for Spanish-speaking youth.

Therein lies the reward for Cruz, who said, “I want to see one of our little league kids playing in the major leagues someday.”

And, even though soccer continues to be the favorite sport among Latinos, baseball is growing and continues developing a strong tradition in the Twin Cities.