Mio ay mio, Julio Cruz is back, and he's swinging a mean microphone.
The Cruzer, one of the most fondly remembered original Mariners, will be the color man on the organization's first attempt since the early 1990s to broadcast its games in Spanish on the radio.
Back then, they did only a handful of games en Español, which were heard only in Western Oregon, so the Mariners are looking at this as a landmark event. They will do all 81 home games on a six-station network that includes Radio Sol (1360 AM) in Seattle/Tacoma as the flagship.
Veteran announcer Amaury Pi-Gonzalez will do the play-by-play, with Cruz adding the analysis. Northwest journalist Candace Oehler will be the field producer and also serve as feature reporter.
"I'm nervous, and that must mean I'm excited," said Cruz, whose broadcasting experience is pretty much limited to being a guest on pregame shows.
"I get to re-live my youth, and disregard my age."
What Cruz lacks in polish and technical know-how, he more than makes up for in enthusiasm and good humor. In fact, if Cruz, now 48, is half as engaging on the air as he is in person, he has a chance to be the Spanish-speaking Dave Niehaus.
That opinion, in fact, is shared by the real Dave Niehaus, who called Cruz's Mariners games from 1977 until his trade to the White Sox in 1983.
"My gosh, he always had that sparkly personality, that unbridled enthusiasm. I think that will come across on air. It's a perfect pick."
Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma, it’s Grand Salami Time! Que saque el pan centeno y mostaza abuelita. ¡Es tiempo de gran cuadrangular! Goodbye, baseball! ¡Adios pelota! Swung on and belted! ¡Columpiado y bien bateado! The toss across JC: El tiro a traves The happy totals Los sumas felices See ya later! ¡Hasta luego! Holy smoke! ¡Santo humo! Cruz was relieved to learn that he didn't have to call, say, a triple to the gap — that's Pi-Gonzalez's job — but rather give the listeners a former player's insight into why the batter was able to connect.
"I want an Emmy, or the Vin Scully award," laughs Cruz, who settled in the Seattle area after his retirement. "The only thing is, most Latinos out there are of Mexican descent, and some of my words are bad words.
"I speak sort of a Puerto Rican slang. I could be in trouble. You might hear a lot of beep beeps. People will think it's Ozzy Osbourne."
Cruz, born in Brooklyn, jokes that since he's on radio, no one will get to see him, so that should keep the booing to a minimum. He enthuses about the perks of the job, such as a free-parking pass at Safeco Field, and his own headsets.
"I'm taking those suckers home so I can listen to music," he said.
Pi-Gonzalez has already gotten a dose of the frenetic energy of Cruz, who led the Mariners in stolen bases for six straight seasons.
Cruz currently helps coach the Eastside Catholic baseball team in Bellevue with former teammate Bill Caudill, with whom he also conducts youth clinics. He'd love for his broadcasting job to expand to a larger role in the Mariners organization. Cruz was Manager of the Year in the Appalachian League in 1997 working in the Texas Rangers' organization, but left the job to be closer to his family.
"He's so wired," Pi-Gonzalez said. "I told him to relax — he'll be fine. I told him to act like he's watching a game at home."
Gonzalez, 58, is one of the giants of Spanish broadcasting, his 25-year major-league career putting him just behind legends like Jaime Jarrin (Dodgers), Felo Ramirez (Marlins) and Billy Berroa (Mets) in tenure. He remembers interviewing Cruz in the 1970s while calling Oakland A's games, and nicknaming his future partner "Mucho Frio" — too cold.
"Every time I saw him in batting practice, he said, 'It's too cold here,' " Pi-Gonzalez recalled. "He's a warm-hearted guy. I like him. But he's going to drive me crazy."
Pi-Gonzalez will continue calling about 24 San Francisco Giants games in addition to his new job as the Spanish voice of the Mariners, which should make him very popular on Southwest Airlines. A Cuban native who went to the University of Miami, Gonzalez was stationed at Fort Lewis in 1968 and '69.
"I feel very lucky, working at Safeco Field and Pac Bell Park," he said. "My favorite is Wrigley, but as far as the new generation of ballparks, it doesn't get much better."
Both Cruz and Pi-Gonzalez are excited to be part of this project, which hopes to tap into the burgeoning Latino population in the Northwest, and their demonstrated love of baseball. According to the Census Bureau, Hispanics have surpassed black Americans as the largest minority group in the United States at 37 million.
"Hopefully, in two or three years, we'll do the whole schedule," Pi-Gonzalez said.
According to Mariners Vice President Randy Adamack, the team has contemplated this move for several years. The broadcasts will be carried in Spanish on stations in Moses Lake, Tri-Cities, Yakima, Wenatchee, and Ontario, Ore., with efforts under way to add Portland to the network.
"How wonderful," said Roberto Maestas, executive director of El Centro de la Raza, a Latino civil-rights organization in Seattle. "Next to getting Ichiro, this is one of the smartest moves the Mariners have ever made. It will be a great success, in my opinion."
Maestas said he knows many people who love the Mariners but would prefer to hear the broadcasts in Spanish.
"If they lose one or two key words, I get asked, 'What did he mean by that? What happened?' I go to games a lot and I constantly bump into Latinos. They love baseball, and the presence of Latinos in the major leagues adds tremendous interest and excitement. It's going to be a hit."
And Cruz is already working on his catch phrases to rival Niehaus' "Fly, fly away," and "Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma."
"I'm going to throw in a zucor — sweetness," Cruz said.
"And flavor — he hit it with much sabor. On the sweet spot."
The Mariners believe that their new broadcast team will provide their own welcome dose of sabor to local Latinos.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com.