Jaime Jarrin sits up in his hospital bed and wonders.
Why does he always have to be so cooperative? When those people from the Los Angeles advertising agency called him in Vero Beach, Fla., March 26, asking him to cut a radio commercial in an hour, why didn’t he say no?
It was an impossible task. He would have to rush from the Dodgertown dining room at 8 p.m, buy a blank reel-to-reel tape, drive back to Dodgertown, cut the commercial and hand it to a messenger by 9.
So why did he say yes? As the Dodgers’ top Spanish language radio broadcaster and generally considered the best such announcer in the nation, he didn’t need the money. He didn’t need the exposure.
So why did he jump in his rented car and hustle from store to store, searching for that blank tape?
These are questions Jaime Jarrin, separated from his friends and his baseball team for 53 days, asks himself every day. It passes the time while helping him avoid the real questions.
Such as, when turning left toward a Radio Shack store during that search, why didn’t he see that pickup truck?
And after that truck slammed into his car, crushing both the automobile and his insides, why did he not die?
“I thought I was dying,” Jarrin recalled Thursday from his room at Indian River Memorial Hospital in Vero Beach. “I am trapped in the car, I cannot breathe, I am moving my hands to breathe . . . and I see the face of my wife and children. I think I am dying.”
He put the phone down, but could be heard in the background, weeping.
“Maybe next time, I think more of just myself,” Jarrin said after regaining his composure. And so the ordeal continues for one of the most popular members of the Dodger family. It is an ordeal more serious than anyone feared, and is lasting longer than anyone imagined.
The Dodgers’ announcement of Jarrin’s accident in Vero Beach was structured as if he were just another pitcher having shoulder surgery. Only his doctors knew that Jarrin was close to dying of internal injuries. Several weeks later, because of complications, Jarrin says, he again nearly died.
He was originally scheduled to rejoin partner Rene Cardenas on the KWKW radio broadcast team by the end of the June. Yet he remains hospitalized, having just been released from the intensive care earlier this week. His wife, Blanca, is still living at Dodgertown, courtesy of the club.
He actually thinks he could be back home and in the booth by the All-Star break. But the Dodgers will be thankful to see him by the end of the season.
“What, you don’t think I can do it?” Jarrin asked.
It was precisely that rhetorical question that Jarrin, 56, has used to work his way to a status as one of Los Angeles’ most popular Latino celebrities.
When he arrived from Quito, Ecuador, in 1955, he had never seen a baseball game and his English was poor. Friends like to tell of the time he worked as a cafeteria busboy and became confused by a request for horseradish.
“I know what a horse is, and I know what a radish is, but what is this things that puts them together?” he reportedly said.
Benefiting from announcing experience in Ecuador, Jarrin began working on Dodger Spanish broadcasts in 1959, and was doing play-by-play a year later. His biggest asset was a friendly delivery, and he later got lucky by becoming Fernando Valenzuela’s translator during the early ‘80s.
In a Latin community that makes up an estimated 32% of the local population, Jarrin is a hero. He routinely draws thousands of fans to appearances at store openings. Those people have reacted to Jarrin’s accident with shock.
“I have received an unbelievable amount of letters,” Jarrin said. “Completely unbelievable.”
Said a Vero Beach Police Department employee: “You can’t get into his hospital room because of the flowers. Every day, more flowers.”
Jarrin still shares that shock. He said the police report blamed much of the accident on him, even though he never saw the truck and an eyewitness reportedly said the truck was speeding.
“I still don’t remember any lights on the truck, I remember nothing,” Jarrin said.
He does remember the words of doctors, who told him he was fortunate to be alive after suffering liver and spleen injuries and a collapsed lung.
“Another 10 minutes, and I was gone,” he said.
Three weeks later, on Easter, he returned to the operating room because his liver was still leaking.
“My stomach became all swelled up, like I was pregnant,” Jarrin said. “I nearly caught this stomach disease that would have also been fatal.”
He has survived, though, to ask one more question. Friends and fans will say it is a typical Jaime Jarrin question.
He wonders what happened to the man and his female passenger in the pickup, both of whom were treated and released from the hospital on the night of the accident.
“You know, I haven’t heard one word from them,” Jarrin said. “I just hope, are they OK?”