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Villa, Rivera get call for Yanks

Villa, Rivera get call for Yanks

NEW YORK -- He is the Spanish voice of the Yankees, the bridge between the action on the playing field in the Bronx and fans who love their men in pinstripes.

But ask Beto Villa about his job broadcasting Yankees games on the radio, and he says it's really not a job at all. It's his duty.

"I am always searching for the truth," Villa said. "I love statistics and historical dates. The facts need to be shared with the people who follow the game. The history of Latino players is a beautiful one."

Jovial by nature, Villa -- who partners with Francisco Rivera to call the Yankees' games in Spanish -- has an approach that is no laughing matter. Villa, a native of Venezuela, has one stack of flashcards with current and historical quotes, and another stack with historical facts and statistics -- and he's always waiting for somebody to ask him a question about Latino baseball players.

If nobody asks? He shares the info on the radio.

He considers himself a perfectionist. Under his right arm, he usually carries manila folders with explanations of certain events and feats involving Latino players. Below his jacket and book of media guides in his locker at Yankee Stadium is a stack of papers that highlights the first time brothers Matty, Felipe and Jesus Alou played in the game.

Villa and Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal once playfully argued the subject. Villa wants to be prepared if the topic ever comes up again.

"I am very proud of the stories of the Latino players, and I want to make sure we get it right," Villa said. "These are the sports heroes of today and tomorrow. What the men did in the past paved the way for current guys."

Villa's career in Spanish radio started in 1980, and he spent four years transmitting games to Venezuela and Mexico with current Mets Spanish radio broadcaster Billy Berroa and veteran sportswriter Juan Vene.

Villa was a radio producer, a narrator, a technician and a soundman at various times during the 1980s. He called Jim Abbott's no-hitter for the Yankees in 1993, and in the early 1990s, he broadcast games for the Phillies, Mets and Yankees to various Latin American outlets.

"It did not matter what I was doing," he said. "I loved the game, and I wanted to stay involved in one way or another. It trained me to be where I am today. I can do all parts of a broadcast if I have to."

Everything changed in 1996, Villa says. He continued to work the radio job, but his work on Second Audio Programming (SAP) opened the eyes of the Yankees organization and fans. He eventually worked with former Yankees Spanish broadcasters Armando Talavera and Roberto Clemente Jr., establishing himself as a mainstay in the Yankees' press box along the way.

"Latinos have overcome many obstacles and continue moving forward in this game," Villa said. "The future is going to be more and more about Latino baseball players. That's more work for me to keep the stats updated, and then you have to see how they compare to the past. But it's a pleasure to do it."

Rivera's journey to The House that Ruth Built started in his hometown of Morovis, Puerto Rico, and eventually landed him at Rutgers University in New Jersey in 1970.

Like Villa, Rivera believes he was on a mission from the beginning. But his calling was to assist the needy, and in 1977, he began a career in social work that still exists today. In addition to his duties with the Yankees, Rivera is a home inspector for the children's division of New Jersey's Urban League.

"I get satisfaction from both jobs in different ways," he said. "The way I look at it is that my social work job is a job. The radio is a hobby, a passion and something that gets me excited. You live the experience. There is nothing like going to a Major League game every day."

In the early 1980s, Rivera studied communications at a broadcasting school in Manhattan. But he spent most of his time in various aspects of community service with a focus on education and job placement. He never lost sight of his dream to work in sports, but he was more than content to help the dreams of others come true.

"I have had the opportunities others have not had. It's up to us to help others in our community," Rivera said. "That's how I was raised. I help people because that's what I want to do."

He satisfied his urge for sports by broadcasting local youth league and adult softball games he helped create in New Jersey. It was fun. It was a hobby -- until 1991, when he began covering NBA games in Spanish for WADO.

The WADO gig would last three seasons, and it culminated with his being named the host of "WADO Deportivo," one of New York's most popular Spanish sports shows. He eventually helped broadcast Philadelphia Phillies games on the weekends during the 1996 and 1997 seasons with Talavera and Berroa. In fact, Rivera served as Talavera's substitute at Yankee Stadium when Talavera was called to do national broadcasts.

Things seemed great. They weren't.

Rivera was let go from WADO in 2004 because of what he called "cutbacks."

"I always thought it was a blessing to be doing sports, so I was not as hurt as you might think," Rivera said. "I had a job already. I thought, 'Something will come up later.' "

It did. In 2005, the Yankees Spanish broadcasts moved to WKDM, and Rivera was immediately asked to work for them. Talavera, who worked primarily for WADO, did not return.

"Things worked out. I have always wanted to be on the radio," Rivera said. "This is where you want to be, especially with the Yankees. It's a dream."

Funny thing is, Rivera doesn't necessarily have a lot of time to dream. He wakes up daily at 6:30 a.m. and spends eight hours with his social work in New Jersey before arriving at Yankee Stadium around 3 p.m. each day for home games. He often leaves the park after 11 p.m.

When the Yankees are on the road, Villa and Rivera broadcast games from a studio in New York -- sound effects and all.

"I thought about staying with one job, but I really like both of them," Rivera said. "We'll see how long I can do it. I'll give it a year, and then we'll see."

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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