As Latino Clout in St. Louis Grows, the Cardinals Test a Spanish-Language Broadcast

Oct 12, 2016 at 6:00 am
Fans flocked to Fiesta Cardenales.
Fans flocked to Fiesta Cardenales. PHOTO BY STEVE TRUESDELL

The rain is a bad sign.

Clouds have hovered all day over St. Louis, but of course they've waited until now, less than two hours before the Cardinals-Pirates game, to open up. A cold drizzle falls on Busch Stadium as Brenda Garcia, husband Tony and DJ Tiburon from her Spanish-language radio station hustle to set up their booth in a corner of the upper walkway.

"Tiburon, make the rain go away," Garcia says.

She eyes the gray skies from beneath La Ke Buena Radio's pop-up tent, arranging tiny flags from a dozen Latin countries on a folding table. It's the last night of September, and what happens during tonight's game will factor into calculations that could extend well beyond baseball.

For the first time in team history, the Cardinals will be airing two home games in Spanish, and La Ke Buena is making it happen. The inaugural broadcast was the night before and produced an especially poignant moment.

Former big leaguer Bengie Molina was calling the game alongside veteran play-by-play man Polo Ascencio when his younger brother, Cards catcher Yadier Molina, came to bat in the bottom of the fifth inning. Yadi hit a home run to left and then pointed up to his oldest brother while running the bases. In the broadcast booth, Ascencio shouted, "Se va! Se va!" (the Spanish equivalent of "Going, going... ") while an overjoyed Bengie Molina tried not to leap out of his seat. A replay of the call was later aired on the televised English-language broadcast.

It was a golden start for the groundbreaking broadcast, and clips of the moment are still spinning around the internet. Tonight will be an even bigger event if it stops raining. The Cardinals are calling it Fiesta Cardenales.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the team is hosting a pregame party on the upper balcony in the southeast corner of the stadium. The president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is scheduled to throw out the first pitch. There are plans for Latin-themed giveaways and free "Cardenales" T-shirts. Flamenco dancers and a performer on stilts pick their way across the wet cement.

Everything is ready to go, in fact, except the field. Members of the Cardinals grounds crew jog out onto the grass and drag the tarp over the infield. There's less than two hours until the game is set to start.

The team from Ke Buena is exhausted. The first broadcast was an all-day affair, and today has been just as grueling. The sound engineer had stayed up until 3:30 a.m. editing commercials to use during tonight's game. Garcia reconvened the group at 7:30 a.m. at Busch so they could do the station's morning show live from the stadium. They followed up with an afternoon show that ended just before 3 p.m. After a quick bite to eat, everyone returns to set up the tent for the fiesta and prepare the broadcast booth for tonight's game.

It's more than the long hours wearing them out. There is the stress of doing something they've never done before and a sense of responsibility to get this right. St. Louis' Hispanic and Latino population has traditionally been a small and often overlooked part of the metro area. Garcia remembers the culture shock of moving here with her husband eighteen years ago from Texas.

"When we went to the mall and we saw another Hispanic, it was like 'Oh, my God, it's another Hispanic,'" she says.

That's changed in recent years with a spike in new residents. Garcia, a 45-year-old serial entrepreneur, now runs a cluster of family businesses in a strip mall on the border of Bridgeton and St. Ann that cater to the growing Latino community. She and Tony own the popular restaurant La Tejana, which shares space with their liquor store. Next door is the family's grocery store, and Garcia does taxes from her offices at the other end of the complex. More recently, they've branched into media with a newspaper, El Hispano, and the radio station, which streams online at

As successful as these enterprises have been, the broadcasts are possibly Garcia's most high-profile venture yet. They reach beyond her family and customers, beyond U.S. Census numbers, beyond even the region's Spanish speakers. They demonstrate that the city's favorite team, the most popular brand in town, has recognized it needs to take notice.

The rain breaks shortly before game time, and the grounds crew hauls away the tarp. Garcia's marketing director, her 29-year-old son Kyle Garcia, ducks into the broadcast booth to get ready.

"It's history," he says.