Telling Spanish-speaking World Of U.s. 'Beisbol' A Man With Philadelphia Roots Uses Broadcasting To Link Millions To Heroes From Home.

Posted: October 11, 1993

ATLANTA — Clemson Smith Muniz, Penn graduate and descendant of Philadelphia blue bloods, is the Tim McCarver of the Latin world, the color man broadcasting Phillies-Braves playoff games to 50 million people in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Smith Muniz's Philadelphia roots go deep - and we'll get to Katharine Hepburn in a minute.

Smith Muniz and his play-by-play partner, Alvaro Martin, usually work for ESPN in the network's Connecticut studios, doing voice-overs in Spanish of everything from college football to monster trucks.

When the opportunity came to do live broadcasting, on camera, for Major League Baseball International - a company partially owned by Major League Baseball and NBC that broadcasts internationally - they leaped.

"There's 300 million Spanish-language speakers in this world," said Martin, a native of Puerto Rican who has an MBA from Harvard. "Soon in this country there will be 25 million Hispanics. . . . And they're underserved."

Smith Muniz said that roughly 20 percent of major-league baseball players are Hispanic, and they have a tremendous following worldwide.

Their broadcast - according to Dave Hagen, who lives in Haddonfield and is here directing the world feed for Major League Baseball International - is going to 80 countries overall. Gary Abrams, executive producer of the broadcast, said he even has a man in Hong Kong doing a voice-over in Mandarin for Chinese viewers.

Smith Muniz's broadcast is going to 30 Spanish-speaking countries.

"We joke that Fidel is listening to us," said Smith Muniz. "I'm almost certain."


If so, Castro might have noticed Smith Muniz's tough day Saturday.

Smith Muniz, 35, was on the field for a live interview with Francisco Cabrera of the Atlanta Braves, a citizen of the Dominican Republic.

Smith Muniz had prepared Cabrera to talk about his game-winning pinch-hit in the seventh game of last year's league championship series - telling him that "we've only got 90 seconds and we've got to be tight."

They even did a dry run.

So, live, speaking in Spanish, Smith Muniz began, "We're here with Francisco Cabrera, whose game-winning pinch-hit last year was one of the great moments in playoff history. . . ."

"Well, before we go on," Cabrera began in Spanish, "I'd like to say hello to a few people. . . ."

"He greeted his mom, aunts, godson, you name it," Smith Muniz said with a groan. "He went on for 30 seconds! Smoke was coming out my ears."

Earlier in the week, Phillies second baseman Mariano Duncan had done the same thing.

"It's a reflex action," Smith Muniz said. "Latin players tend to do this in every sport. They don't often get a chance to go live on TV in Spanish, back to their native countries. . . . I screwed up," continued Smith Muniz. ''Not Cabrera. I didn't account for the family greeting."

Smith Muniz is well-acquainted with his family history.

His father's side descends from Smiths and Houstons - both prominent Philadelphia pedigrees. There is a statue of his great-great-grandfather, Henry Howard Houston, in Fairmount Park. The Houstons are the same Houstons for whom Houston Hall, the student union building at Penn, is named.

"My grandfather's brother, Ogden Ludlow Smith, was Kate Hepburn's only husband," he boasted. "If he had stayed married, she'd be my great-aunt Kate."

When Smith Muniz applied to Penn, the university asked him to list relatives who had attended. "I have 80-some - that's including third cousins and dating back 200 years," he said. "I only listed the top 20."

"I know how I got into Penn," he joked. "I wonder how I got out."

Smith Muniz's father is Lewis L.G. Smith. "He dropped the G. long ago," said Smith Muniz, "but since Philadelphia is into initials, you can use the G."

According to Smith Muniz, Lewis Smith drifted away from Philadelphia society at an early age.

As a high school student at Germantown Friends, Lewis Smith took a trip to Puerto Rico, kindling a life-long love affair with the island. Years later, he met Smith Muniz's mother, Trini Muniz, while visiting Puerto Rican friends in New York.

"My mother is one of 12 children raised by two strong parents in rural Puerto Rico during the Depression," said Smith Muniz. "Her background is very working-class."

Smith Muniz grew up in Puerto Rico, where his parents still live, speaking English and Spanish fluently. After Penn, he became a newspaper reporter in Connecticut and New York, but a few years ago decided to work almost exclusively for Latin media - print and broadcast. "I got tired of being a token," he said of his newspaper experience.

He said Spanish-language broadcasting is "a growing medium. There's a vacuum. We're in on the ground floor."

Broadcasting baseball in Spanish can present problems of translation. Smith Muniz and Martin offered a partial glossary:

Normally, second base translates as segunda base. But in some countries, the second baseman is a camarero - waiter - because he "serves up the ball for the double play."

A double play is a doble matanza - twin killing.

When a batter grounds to the pitcher, who throws easily to first for the out, this is known in Spanish as via de la verguenza - put out in a shameful way.

A home run is a cuadrangular - a four-corner hit. A 1-2-3 inning is a paso de conga - steps of the conga, because the Latin dance has a quick and smooth three-step rhythm.

A bloop hit in Mexico is a palomita - little dove. And the Cuban term for bases loaded is cuatro pescados en la sarten, which translates as four fish in the frying pan.

For outfielders, they use three words: patrulleros - patrolmen; jardineros - gardeners; and guardabosques - forest rangers.

Smith Muniz and Martin use all these expressions in their broadcasts.

Because of network agreements, the CBS English feed with Tim McCarver and Sean McDonough goes to Puerto Rico, where both Alvaro's and Smith Muniz's mothers live. But on Wednesday night, for the first series game from Philadelphia, Puerto Rico picked up the wrong feed from the satellite.

"We were famous for 15 minutes," said Smith Muniz. "His mother got 15 calls, and my mother got three!"

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