You’re doing laps on the cable and you land on Fox Sports New York, one of the stations that carries the Mets. At first, everything is reassuring: the view from the center-field camera, the pitcher toeing the rubber, the batter readjusting his helmet, a kid eating a hot dog in the stands.
But something’s not quite right. The descriptions and accounts of the game are in a language in which the only word you’ve ever been able to decipher is ” Goooo-aaaallllll !” You begin to worry that somebody at the cable company has crossed the Mets telecast with the World Cup final.
Then you vaguely recall that baseball broadcasts are available in Spanish by pressing the SAP button on your television. You haven’t a clue what SAP stands for, and what’s worse, you have no idea where the SAP button is on your TV-or if you even have one.
Panicked, you change the channel to the YES Network and breathe a sigh of relief, as Michael Kay and Jim Kaat are speaking plain old English. But every time you return to the Mets station, your audio remains in Spanish.
Finally, a message of the kind reserved for flash-flood advisories and breaking news crawls across the bottom of your screen, solving the riddle: Tonight the Mets are being broadcast en español on Fox, and in English on MSG. It’s part of a 10-game experiment by the folks at MSG Networks, which owns both channels but doesn’t really have enough programming to fill them both after baskethockey season ends.
It should come as no surprise that the Mets count millions of Spanish speakers among their viewing audience. Indeed, some 15 percent of the New York metro area’s viewing audience is Spanish-speaking, according to MSG officials. And with a starting lineup that includes names like Cedeño, Alomar, Alfonzo, Perez and Ordoñez, the only surprise is that it has taken this long for the Spanish broadcast to get off the SAP and onto its own channel.
If the experiment has proven anything so far, it’s that the appetite for Mets en español has merely been whetted. The first three broadcasts have averaged a 0.72 rating, according to Mike McCarthy, executive vice president of MSG Networks. That’s about 52,000 people, or more than twice as many as watch a typical Islanders or Devils game.
More important, though, the Spanish broadcasts have not cut into the ratings for the English broadcasts. “One of the worries was that we might cannibalize our English audience,” Mr. McCarthy said, “but our research is showing that there’s a completely different fan base that wasn’t being served by the English broadcast.” He added that the success of these broadcasts may encourage MSG to broadcast Knicks games in Spanish next fall, when the Nets abandon Fox Sports for YES.
The Mets’ announcers, Billy Berroa and Juan Alicea, have an almost effortless style; they freely mix baseball terminology from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. “Sometimes I’ll say ‘center fielder,’ sometimes I’ll say ‘jardinero central ,’ and sometimes I’ll use the Puerto Rican term ‘ guardabosque central ,’” says Señor Alicea, a Bronx native of Puerto Ricandescent.(Mr. Berroa, whom Mr. Alicea calls “the Hispanic Vin Scully,” hails from San Pedro de Macoris in the DominicanRepublic, birthplace of shortstops extraordinaire).
So even if your Spanish is limited to ” ¡Ay caramba! ” and “Margarita, por favor, ” you can easily follow the broadcast. The video is there in front of you, so you can see what’s happening, and the numbers in baseball rarely climb higher than ” uno, dos, tres strikes, you’re out.” There are muchos cognates (for a triple, base por bolas ), and even more words borrowed wholesale from English (“hit,” “strike,” “out,” ” el right fielder,” ” el shortstop”). “The great majority of our audience is bilingual,” Mr. Alicea says. “We can translate anything- paracorto for ‘shortstop,’ for example-but most Hispanics feel that baseball is an American sport, so the more American you go, the more authentic.”
The graphics, also in Spanish, help with the translation. Roberto Alomar was ponchado (punched out) last time up, while Mike Piazza’s last at-bat resulted in a long out de elevado (fly out) that was almost a two-run cuadrangular . Mark Guthrie is the L.Z. ( lanzador zurdo , or “left-hander”) warming up in the patio de relevistas -is the word “bullpen” any more logical? Meanwhile, the lanzador for the Bravos throws alanzamiento salvaje and now has a cuenta maxima, tres y dos, on Mike Piazza. The next lanzamiento es alto , and Mr. Piazza walks to first. Pero Mo Vaughn hits a grounder to segundo base for an easy doble jugada (cuatro a seis a tres), y el episodio se termina (the inning is over).
Armando Benitez retira los Bravos y preserva la victoria para Steve Trachsel, y los Mets ganan. ¡Victoria para los Mets!
(Terry Golway will return to this space next week.)