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The Check-In: Dodgers’ Jaime Jarrín awash in memories as he awaits 62nd season

Jaime Jarrín sits in the seats at Dodger Stadium in 2019.
Jaime Jarrín, 84, was set to begin his 62nd season as the Dodgers’ Spanish-language broadcaster. Instead he’s at home, reading and enjoying SportsNet LA binges.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

It took six years and arrived with baseball at a standstill, but the recent agreement to carry SportsNet LA, the Dodgers’ television home, on DirecTV, could not have come at a better time for Jaime Jarrín.

The Hall of Fame radio broadcaster is 84 years old, making him among the most susceptible to the novel coronavirus. He does not go outside, not even for the walks around the neighborhood he enjoys so much, and his son, Jorge, makes sure of it.

Jarrín had been holed up in his home in Arizona, minutes from the Dodgers’ Camelback Ranch spring training facility, with Jorge and his daughter-in-law, Maggie, over the last few weeks until traveling back to the family home in San Marino on Sunday. With little to do, he’s spent hours in self-quarantine watching and reliving games from the past, like Game 4 of the 1988 National League Championship Series, when Mike Scioscia homered off Dwight Gooden to tie the score in the ninth inning and Kirk Gibson won it with a home run in the 12th.

“It’s been really great for my state of mind to watch those games, and to see that baseball is alive,” Jarrín said in a telephone interview.

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Major League Baseball has never experienced a time like this. Jarrín knows because he has been calling Dodgers games in Spanish for six decades, beginning in the franchise’s second season in L.A.

Would bringing back MLB amid the coronavirus crisis be a morale boost for a quarantined nation or an audacious grab of medical resources? Or both?

The longest-tenured broadcaster in the majors has experienced all the stoppages and can rattle off the details from memory. The strikes, including the big one in 1981 that left players stranded in St. Louis, and the lockouts and the L.A. riots in 1992 and the time of mourning after Sept. 11. But he’s experienced nothing like the current crisis, with the world battling a pandemic for the foreseeable future.

“I hope we have some baseball this year,” Jarrín said. “I would go crazy without baseball for this year. And I don’t want the virus to stop my streak of 62 years in a row doing what I love to do, doing baseball. It’s fantastic.”

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Jarrín planned on assuming a lesser role before the start of last season to spend more time with his wife of 65 years, Blanca. But Blanca died suddenly in February 2019. After a talk with Vin Scully, Jarrín decided to work all 162 games to keep himself busy and his mind off his loss.

This year, Jarrín intended on calling every Dodgers game, except perhaps for two weeks in August, when he planned to return to his native Ecuador to visit the Amazon. He already traveled to Quito in January and saw some family for the first time in 70 years. But his planned Ecuador trip had to be scrapped.

“If we start baseball in July, it’s not feasible,” Jarrín said.

Jaime Jarrín takes a close look at the Dodger Stadium field during batting practice.
Jaime Jarrín hopes to see baseball start up again in time for the All-Star Game to be played at Dodger Stadium in July.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

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Jarrín is hopeful about the 2020 season but cautious. He doesn’t see how baseball could restart before July. He harbors doubts about the reported plan to have all 30 teams play a season in the Phoenix area. He fervently hopes the All-Star Game, slated for July 14 at Dodger Stadium, isn’t canceled.

“I know it’s difficult to stay inside, but we have to do it,” Jarrín said. “We have to avoid the [spread] of the virus. That’s the most important thing. Everything else is secondary.”

Jarrín called the last All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium, in July 1980. Two months later, a 19-year-old left-handed pitcher from Mexico made his major league debut. Fernando Valenzuela was a reliever in his initial stint with the Dodgers. The details remain vivid in Jarrin’s mind. The first batter Valenzuela faced was Atlanta Braves catcher Bruce Benedict. He flied out to center field at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

“That was the beginning, to me,” Jarrín said, “the beginning of what was later on, Fernandomania.”

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The fervor around Valenzuela began intensifying the next April when he tossed a shutout against the Houston Astros on opening day. Jarrín reminisced last Thursday, the 39th anniversary of that outing in 1981. He would become the interpreter for Valenzuela, who won NL rookie of the year and Cy Young awards, and led the Dodgers to the World Series championship.

The Dodgers and Angels are not refunding tickets at this time, following the guidance of Major League Baseball. Neither is StubHub. Fans are outraged.

Nearly four decades later, Jarrín craves more baseball. He’s finding his fix in different ways. He’s reading Curt Smith’s “The Presidents and the Pastime and plans on sharing details from the book on his broadcasts this season, if there is a season. On Thursday, he will record the first episode of his podcast with son Jorge and his grandson Stefan. The show, produced by Univision, is called “Despídala con un Beso” — the end of Jarrín’s signature home run call, loosely translated as, “kiss it goodbye.” The first episode is scheduled for release next weekend.

Otherwise, Jarrín turns on his television to relive the past. He limits his TV news intake to half an hour in the morning and half an hour at night — he finds the world’s problems too depressing for more — but binges on Dodgers content. It’ll have to do until he’s back in the booth, whenever that is, for his 62nd season.

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“It’s been tough, very difficult,” Jarrín said. “I am very anxious to do what I love to do, baseball. It’s unbelievable.”


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