'¡El Tiburón!': The art of a broadcast moniker

Arenado's nickname among a labor of love for Cards Spanish broadcaster Ascencio

September 16th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- As Nolan Arenado stepped up to the plate in the eighth inning of the Cardinals’ home opener on April 8, he left Polo Ascencio, seated three levels up from the playing surface, without much time to brace himself. Arenado sent the first pitch he saw into the left-field seats, a marquee moment for the club’s offseason addition.

Truthfully, Ascencio, the Cards’ Spanish play-by-play broadcaster, didn’t need the extra time. He arrived at Busch Stadium for his sixth season calling home Cardinals games with an appropriately marquee call -- and nickname -- in his back pocket.

“¡El Tiburón ha llegado!” Ascencio proclaimed onto the airwaves of WIJR 880 AM La Tremenda.

The Shark has arrived.

Fans were treated to a similar call just this past Saturday, when Arenado blasted an almost identical game-winning blast against the Reds. In fact, fans have been treated to similar calls over the course of the season, whether they’ve realized it or not, as part of the diligent and thorough -- though sometimes spontaneous -- work Ascencio does in doling out nicknames to the players he calls.

For broadcasters, and especially radio broadcasters, calling games on the airwaves is an artform. The nicknames they prescribe are their finest paint strokes.

“I have never tried to force a nickname,” Ascencio says. “If it doesn't feel right, I’ll stop and I’m like, ‘Get out of here, what are you doing?’”

Ascencio is a disciple of Eduardo Ortega, the legendary voice of the Padres, first as a listener and then up close as a mentee once he entered the business. Ascencio would glean Ortega’s nicknames as their own lifeform. For example, Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman was coined “Trébol de la Suerte” -- The Lucky Shamrock. Eight-time batting title king Tony Gwynn was “El Campeón” -- The Champion.

But each broadcaster is different, and each nickname personal.

Arenado has been tabbed “El Tiburón” because of the violently beautiful manner he plays third base, his hustle and, specifically, the way he can snatch a ball out of the air when it looks like a play is lost.

“That's why you are The freakin’ Shark,” Ascencio says.

That wasn’t the initial proposal. Ascencio first internally mused “El Toro” -- The Bull -- for Arenado because of his background and that it was the exact name of Arenado’s high school just outside Los Angeles.

But for Ascencio -- a native of Tijuana, Mexico, who grew up around the Dodgers, at one point worked with the Dodgers and now resides in Southern California -- calling anyone “El Toro” outside of Mexican baseball icon Fernando Valenzuela “would be a big sin.”

So “El Tiburón” has stuck. And it is only the tip of Ascencio’s nickname iceberg:

-- El Príncipe (The Prince)
Many of Ascencio’s nicknames are visually inspired, but none may be more imaginatively picturesque than DeJong’s. Ascencio prescribed El Príncipe to DeJong because of his resemblance to a Disney prince, the beard, the hair and the overall way in which he carries himself. Some names just make sense.

-- El Capitán (The Captain)
Other times, Ascencio’s monikers are straightforward. Molina’s traditional nickname and social media handles make reference to “El Marciano” -- The Martian. But no individual is as central to the Cardinals, literally and spiritually, than Molina, their de facto captain.

What’s more, Ascencio’s broadcast partner is Bengie Molina, Yadier’s brother. Yadier gifted the duo with a walk-off single in their first game broadcasting together in 2016.

-- RoboCop
And sometimes, it’s one moment that sticks. This moment was on Sept. 22, 2018, when O’Neill blasted a walk-off home run against the Giants. His teammates, promptly and without pause, ripped off his jersey, showcasing a physique that rivals that of O’Neill’s bodybuilding father.

Or, as Ascencio remarks, like RoboCop itself. This one, he says, has earned Ascencio the most recognition from fans.

-- El Conejo (The Rabbit)
Both the visual and physical play into this one. Bader, fleet of foot as he is, makes it a habit of stopping on a dime, diving for a ball when he needs to and making the elite appear mundane. The blonde hair flowing in the wind -- that simply harkens to rabbit ears. Bader is aware -- and he’s a supporter.

“He's flashy, he stops when he has to, like you see a rabbit,” Ascencio says. “They stop, and then they go.”

-- Tío (Uncle)
Similar to Molina, this one is seamless and eternal. Uncle Charlie is the name of Wainwright’s curveball. So, Wainwright himself is just Tío.

-- El Flama (The Flame)
Simply, for Flaherty’s dynamite fastball and his dominating presence on the mound.

-- El Látigo (The Whip)
As Ascencio tells it, there was a time that Flaherty vouched for Hicks to be called “El Flama.” But Ascencio didn’t feel that appropriately painted the full picture of Hicks’ 100-plus mph heat.

-- El Prodigio (The Prodigy)
Carlson, still just 22, is seen as a cornerstone for the Cardinals of today and for years to come. He needed to grow into it, and Ascencio has seen him do so over the past two seasons.

-- El Rey de Reyes (The King of the Kings)
Names -- and name puns -- never go wrong.

-- El Peytón de la México
Growing up in Obregón, Mexico, Gallegos was so attached to an Indianapolis Colts Peyton Manning jersey that he wore it almost everywhere he went. Friends and family started calling him Peytón. It followed him around the Mexican professional leagues and it found Ascencio, at Gallegos’ telling.

“Why change it?” Ascencio says.

(Alternatively: El Yaqui -- the native tribe of Gallegos’ home.)

Mike Shildt -- Jefecito (The Boss)
Manager, skipper, boss -- all in one moniker.

-- Don Dorado
El Dorado is a mythical city of gold. Don is a name given to an individual of elevated status as to show respect. Both those fit Goldy.

-- El Elegante (The Elegant)
Every twitch and movement from Sosa in the field and in the batter’s box is with a discernible purpose. He’s fluid, sleek and flashy. His bat and his equipment, too, are of a more elegant hue, as Ascencio has been drawn to.

“This guy is so elegant,” Ascencio remarks, “so now he is ‘El Elegante.’”

Sosa, like many on this list, is a fan.