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

Fans flocked to Fiesta Cardenales.
Fans flocked to Fiesta Cardenales. PHOTO BY STEVE TRUESDELL

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click to enlarge Polo Ascencio calls the Cardinals-Pirates game in Spanish. - PHOTO BY STEVE TRUESDELL
Polo Ascencio calls the Cardinals-Pirates game in Spanish.

The broadcast rolls smoothly through the first three innings. Garcia is locked in, sliding her office chair back and forth between the sound engineer and audio producer while Kyle Garcia delivers printed scripts for commercials one at a time to Ascencio and Molina.

She keeps an eye on Ke Buena's social media; comments from listeners have begun to flow in. One fan writes of listening from Cancun, and Garcia beams.

"I got goose bumps," she says.

As much as Garcia and Ke Buena want to make sure everything goes well, the Cardinals are also tracking the broadcast. A team sales rep — a pleasant but firm woman in a quilted red vest, carrying a floral notebook — pops in every inning or so to monitor their progress.

"Don't forget your station IDs," she says during an early game check-in. Garcia smiles brightly and assures her they won't.

In the bottom of the third, Cardinals power hitter Jedd Gyorko smacks a 393-foot home run over the left-field wall. The solo home run puts the Cardinals ahead 1-0. If that's all the scoring they do, it could be the play of the game, and that could be a problem. Ke Buena's Rubén Pérez has been working on editing highlights, but he doesn't like the sound quality when he checks the recording. He switches to a different laptop, and then back to the original while consulting with Garcia. He spends the next two innings working with the different computers, trying to salvage something he likes.

A crowd of 43,070 people fills the stands. Aside from the broadcast, this is a big game for the Cardinals. They're trailing the San Francisco Giants by a game in the standings, and if they have any hope of reaching the playoffs, they need to win.

The players feel the pressure. Carlos Martinez is pitching, and any of the easygoing vibe he showed a few weeks ago in Josephville has burned away under the lights of Busch Stadium. He looks almost angry as he strikes out one hitter after another. When he bats in the fifth inning and strikes out, he whips his body around and smashes the barrel of his bat into the dirt.

The score is still 1-0 when the Cardinals come to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning. This is Yadi's series. He hits a double, driving in a run, and then scores when Stephen Piscotty hits another double. By the time the inning is over, the Cardinals have scored four runs and taken a 5-0 lead.

The Cards sales rep pokes her head in the door, this time to celebrate. She mouths "that was awesome!" to Garcia, and they share a silent cheer as Pérez, grateful for a slew of new highlights to replace the earlier home run, works away on his laptop.

Still, the game is missing one golden play to push this beyond just an easy victory. It would be nearly impossible to top Yadi's dramatic home run and game-winning double from the night before, but the fans and crew are still waiting for one defining moment.

The best opportunity comes just an inning later. Earlier in the day, fans had learned that longtime favorite Matt Holliday wasn't likely to be coming back for the 2017 season. He'd been injured for part of the year and still wasn't in shape to retake his position in the outfield. The sixth-inning scoring, however, gives the Cardinals enough breathing room to send Holliday in as a pinch hitter without risking much. It's a gesture of respect, an opportunity for his fans to say goodbye to one of their heroes.

The crowd, knowing this could be his final at-bat for St. Louis, cheers when Holliday walks onto the field. Molina stands in the booth and claps.

Holliday takes two strikes, and then he swings at the third pitch and drives it hard to right field. The fans begin to rise as the ball sails through the air, shouting as it clears the fence for a home run. In the booth, it's impossible to hear what Ascencio and Molina are saying over the roaring crowd.

When it's quiet enough to hear again, Ascencio's voice cuts through the room.

"Es momento spectacular!" he cries.

Anything that happens now is a bonus. Garcia and crew have less than two innings to go before they can turn over the broadcast to the post-game show and go home to bed. They cruise through the rest of the seventh and close out the top of the eighth. They're almost done when the rain returns.

The umpires pause the game, and the grounds crew jogs back onto the field to roll out the tarp again. This causes a new scramble in the booth. They'll now have to fill the dead time, and they have no idea how long this delay will take. Ascencio and Molina talk the audience through what's happening while the crew pulls together interviews recorded the day before. More than 35 minutes pass before the rain finally subsides and the grounds crew drags the tarp away.

"Thank you, God," Garcia says. "Thank you."

The Cardinals play through the eighth and two outs in the top of the ninth. Most of the fans have gone home already. Sensing the end, Garcia pats her crew members on the shoulders.

Finally, more than fifteen hours after the Ke Beuna team arrived at the stadium, the Pirates' Sean Rodriguez hits a ground ball to third to end the game. It's over. Ascencio and Molina work through a couple more segments and pull off their headphones. Everyone hugs as Busch goes dark. Outside, fireworks thunder above the stadium walls.

Garcia crouches down and peers out the window. The light from the explosions reflects off the wet concrete down below. The Giants will end up winning the rest of their games and push the Cardinals out of the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Ascencio will fly back to Los Angeles, and Molina will return to Arizona. By tomorrow morning, Garcia will be back at work in La Tejana. But for a moment, it's quiet in the booth, and she stares through the glass into the night.

"I've never seen the fireworks here," she says.

Editor's note: This story was changed after publication to correct an error. Polo Ascencio has called games for the Dodgers, but not the Padres. We regret the error.
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