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'La Voz' reaches Cards fans around the world

@anne__rogers
September 23, 2020

When Polo Ascencio was approached by a man he didn’t know while walking around a Walmart in Puerto Rico late last year, he had no idea what it was about. Turns out, the man just wanted to tell Ascencio that he recognized him. “You’re the Cardinals broadcaster alongside Bengie Molina,”

When Polo Ascencio was approached by a man he didn’t know while walking around a Walmart in Puerto Rico late last year, he had no idea what it was about. Turns out, the man just wanted to tell Ascencio that he recognized him.

“You’re the Cardinals broadcaster alongside Bengie Molina,” Ascencio recalls the man saying.

That was the moment Ascencio, the Cardinals’ first Spanish play-by-play broadcaster, realized how much his reach to baseball fans around the world had grown. Ascencio had never been to Puerto Rico prior to that trip and didn’t know many people who lived there. Yet here was someone who recognized him.

“When people welcome you like that to their culture and then their family because when you’re on radio, you’re in the house with them -- it was really crazy,” Ascencio said. “That moment made feel I was doing something right and hopefully we can continue.”

That’s what the Cardinals hope, too. Ascencio and Bengie Molina, color commentator and older brother of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, are in their fifth year of broadcasting Cardinals games in Spanish. Each year, they’ve grown a little more in numbers and reach. In 2016, their inaugural year, they broadcasted two games in September to help celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. In 2017, it was eight games. In 2018, it was 39.

In 2019, Ascencio and Molina called all 81 home games. Last season was a big year for the broadcast; it carried the Cardinals-Reds games in Monterrey, Mexico, which was special for Ascencio as a native of Tijuana, Mexico. The Cardinals held a Fiesta Cardenales theme night, and players wore Cardenales jerseys for the first time. Ascencio and Molina also called Cardinals playoff games in Spanish for the first time. This year was going to be even bigger, but the coronavirus pandemic had other plans. Still, Ascencio and Molina are calling all 26 games the Cardinals have played at Busch Stadium and plan to broadcast all postseason games, too, if the club clinches a spot in this final week of regular-season games.

With each year, the number of listeners grows, too. Even in this odd and irregular year, the people listening in have been consistent with last year. Locally, WIJR AM 880 La Tremenda carries the Spanish broadcast around the St. Louis area. And with the MLB app, listeners are from all over the world: Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico.

“It still was amazing that we could still do something this year -- and get that consistency so people know that they can listen on those home games,” Anne Carroll, manager of the Cardinals Radio Network, said.

***

Ascencio has been nervous two times in his broadcasting career. The first was when he learned that he was going to be the first Cardinals broadcaster to call a game in Spanish in 2016. His voice would be the first to bring Cardinals baseball to Spanish-speaking fans. The second time was when he met Mike Shannon, the Cardinals Hall of Fame broadcaster who is still calling games on KMOX.

“And he said, ‘Finally. What took them so long?’” Ascencio recalls. “So when the Mike Shannon, the voice of the Cardinals, tells you finally what took them so long, without knowing my name or if I was good or not, that made me feel at peace. And made me feel I was in the right place.”

Shannon might be the voice of the Cardinals, but Ascencio is “La Voz.” The title comes from the impact that Ascencio and Molina have as Spanish broadcasters. They’ve added to the Hispanic community in St. Louis and abroad, giving Spanish speakers a way to hear their favorite baseball team in their native language.

“Having this voice broadcast our favorite team -- we’re just very proud,” said Celina Allen, who works closely with the Spanish broadcasters as a corporate sales assistant for the Cardinals. “It’s something for the community to have a voice and representation of Hispanic and Latino community. We see this diverse team that’s already on the field and backing it up with the Spanish language on air, that’s just -- I don’t know. I’m at a loss for words.”

While Ascencio is never truly at a loss for words, you can hear the emotion in his voice when he talks about the impact that a Spanish broadcast brings to the Hispanic community. Listen in to one of their broadcasts, and Ascencio and Molina are oozing passion for baseball. English speakers might not be able to understand the Spanish, but there is no mistaking their excitement -- especially when Yadier Molina hits a home run.

“It is what it is today because of their excitement and passion,” Carroll said. “They have helped us grow that brand. It’s Cardenales through Polo and Bengie.”

Players’ families listen to Ascencio and Molina from all over the world. Fans connect with the two over social media -- and in Walmarts -- to tell them where they’re listening from.

“You have all the fans that let us know when we got to events that they listen and appreciate it -- and then the stories come,” Ascencio said. “’My dad was a Cardinals fan when he was a kid, he loved the Cardinals; my grandma had a bunch of cardinals in her house, and she would talk about Julian Javier, Jose Oquendo, all those Latin legends of the Cardinals.’ And they start to put me into that sentence, and it’s unbelievable. I’m getting goosebumps.

“To be able to broadcast the game I have loved since I was born -- hopefully this is just the beginning. This the dream that I never had. I never even had a chance to dream about. Now that I have it, I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.