Padres Spanish Announcer Juan Avila Talks Baseball
Padres Spanish announcer and South Bay resident Juan Avila talks baseball and the Mexican dream.
Padres announcer Juan Avila
You’re originally from Mazatlan, Mexico. Did the culture influence your love of baseball? Mazatlan is a baseball town, so you know about the sport and everyone grew up following it since the day they were born. It was my dream to become a Major League Baseball announcer.
How did you finesse the play-by-play? When I was a kid, around four or five years old, my mother says I listened to the radio and then made a perfect impression of any commercial that I heard. I guess that was my start. I also played Little League from age five until I was 17. During my last years, I preferred to be on the bench (well, most of the time our manager decided that), watching the games and doing play-by-play in my mind.
You began your broadcasting career in Mazatlan, and then went on to Channel 33 Telemundo in Tijuana. Tell us about your big break. I was in the right place at the right time. I visited Tijuana in August of 1995. That day, the guy who was in charge of the sports department at Channel 33 left for another job, and I was there, just visiting old friends. The producer invited me as a guest anchor to do the sports section that night, and after my first test, I was hired. Sounds simple, but it was hard for me to leave my city, my family and friends. But it was a decision I will never regret.
How did you end up in San Diego? At the end of 1997, the Padres invited me to be part of their broadcasting team for 1998. At first I didn’t believe it was real, but I felt confident I could do it. The fact that I would be working with two great broadcasters like Eduardo Ortega and Mario Thomas made me feel more comfortable—two great mentors and friends.
Seems like a pretty sweet job. Do you feel like you’ve set an example of what a kid from Mexico can achieve? Well, I don’t know if I could be an example for every kid of my country, but if I can help with my life experience I would say this: work hard, get a college degree, never give up, and follow your dreams—reaching goals step by step, not long steps, but steady and strong.
You live in Chula Vista. What do you love about the South Bay? The area is close to the border and close to downtown. I love my community. Chula Vista is a very special place in which there are no cultural or language barriers.
San Diegans will be watching the games on a new channel this year. What are your thoughts on the new broadcasting contract with Fox Sports? I think it will be a great thing for fans. Padres games were not previously available at many local bars and restaurants, because there wasn’t a deal in place with DIRECTV. But now there is. I think the quality of the productions is going to impress people. I know more games will be on TV than ever before, and I am excited that they have a sincere interest in reaching our Spanish-speaking fans, too.
What’s new this season at Petco? A lot of new faces on the team and a new team chemistry, which is an important part of winning. Around the ballpark, you will see a lot of new food with a taste of San Diego—burgers from Hodad’s, street tacos by Bull Taco, crêpes and gelato from Chocolat, and more. There is a new Budweiser Patio in right field, which is an outdoor bar space for fans to enjoy during the game.
One player to watch this season? Cameron Maybin is a great athlete, a gifted baseball player. From the new guys, Carlos Quentin and Yonder Alonso. Quentin came from the White Sox as a power hitter, an RBI guy. As for Alonso, the guy can hit. He is a line drive hitter in a style that, in my opinion, fits perfectly at Petco.
Tell us more about Quentin. We love that he’s from San Diego. Quentin has proven in the American League that he is a legitimate power threat. Last year the Padres didn’t have that kind of player. He is very excited to be back home. In San Diego, he is the big bat in the middle of the lineup, a guy that can carry the offense.
Huston Street is primed to be the team’s new closer. Do you think he’ll be able to fill Heath Bell’s shoes? Yes, Street is a proven elite closer. He has been on playoff teams and was successful in Denver, which, for a lot of pitchers, is a complete nightmare. Former closers like Trevor Hoffman, Rod Beck (2003), and Heath Bell set the bar high. But given his experience, I’m confident with Huston as the ninth inning guy.
Remember when the Padres played the New York Mets in Mexico in 1996? I remember, and it gave me chills. I covered that series and it was unbelievable, the return of Fernando Valenzuela to his country where he is a national hero now, playing for the Padres, was awesome.
Do you think MLB should do more of these events to drive interest across the border? I would like to see more games south of the border, of course. We have more cities in Mexico with good ballparks. Mexicali, for example, has a new one that will host the World Baseball Classic in 2013. Tijuana’s ballpark can receive games, as well. Tijuana is a great city, eager to host an exhibition game.
A lot of minor league players are coming from Latin America. What have you seen as far as young player development in Mexico? Our country is far from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. The current system in Mexico does not allow a player to sign directly with an MLB organization. They need to be signed first by a Mexican league club, and then, if they are lucky enough, they can be sold to the big league organizations.
You’re in your 15th season with the Padres. Career highlights? Broadcasting from 41 ballparks and for three playoff teams (1998, 2005, 2006). The last game at Qualcomm Stadium, the first game at Petco Park, Tony Gwynn’s last game at the Q, three no-hitters… after all these games, the game that I most remember is my first one: March 31, 1998, at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Favorite moment? The 1998 World Series, watching a strong Padres team against the Yankees. I had never been at Yankee Stadium (the original), and it was fantastic.
A perfect day at the ballpark… Take your kids to a Padres game, arrive early to watch batting practice, and enjoy the best sport of all: baseball.
In a word, baseball is… Tradition.