Miami Marlins

93-year-old ‘Voice of the Marlins’ gets a field he can finally call his own

Billy the Marlin joined iconic radio broadcaster Rafael 'Felo' Ramirez during the ceremony to name a baseball field after him at Tropical Park. Ramirez was recognized for his long career as the Spanish “Voice of the Marlins” and for connecting generations of Spanish radio listeners to the sport of baseball in his 70-plus years on the air, on Wednesday, December 14, 2016.
Billy the Marlin joined iconic radio broadcaster Rafael 'Felo' Ramirez during the ceremony to name a baseball field after him at Tropical Park. Ramirez was recognized for his long career as the Spanish “Voice of the Marlins” and for connecting generations of Spanish radio listeners to the sport of baseball in his 70-plus years on the air, on Wednesday, December 14, 2016. pportal@miamiherald.com

After more than seven decades on air as a sports radio broadcaster and 23 years as the “Voice of the Marlins” on Radio Mambi (710 AM), 93-year-old Rafael “Felo” Ramirez finally got his own ball field.

On Wednesday, Field #3 at Tropical Park was officially named Rafael “Felo” Ramirez Field at a dedication ceremony officiated by Miami-Dade County Commissioner Javier D. Souto, who sponsored the resolution.

“It is an honor to be able to name this field for Felo,” Souto said. “This highly regarded radio journalist is most beloved amongst Hispanic baseball fans in our community. I am fortunate to have been part of his radio listening audience over the years. His play-by-play commentary for Marlins games is truly a virtual experience. It makes you feel like you are right there at the ballpark! And his persona behind the microphone is equally awe-inspiring.”

Together with Luis “Yiky” Quintana, his counterpart on Radio Mambi, Ramirez has been the Spanish “Voice of the Marlins” since the Marlins franchise was established in 1993.

In his more than 70 years on the radio, Ramirez has lent his voice to more than 32 World Series and All-Star Games and more than 40 Caribbean World Series games. Highlights include Hank Aaron’s 715th home run (April 8, 1974), Roberto Clemente’s 3,000th career hit (Sept. 30, 1972), N.Y. Yankees pitcher Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game (Oct. 8, 1956) and the Marlins’ 1997 and 2003 World Series championships.

“Calling baseball games was my passion since I was a child,” Ramirez said in 2001 when he accepted the prestigious Ford C. Frick Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He is one of only two Hispanics broadcasters to receive the award and has an exhibit in his honor at the Baseball Hall of Fame’s museum in Cooperstown, New York.

He is also a member of the Puerto Rican National Sports Museum. A life-size statue of Ramirez was erected during the inaugural event of the National Sports Museum in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. In 2010, he was inducted as an honorary member of the Latin American Hall of Fame in the Dominican Republican, and in 2011, Northwest Sixth Street next to the Marlins Park was named Felo Ramirez Drive.

In South Florida, Ramirez remains an icon among Hispanics, especially Cubans who don’t speak English. For them, as it is for him, baseball provides a special connection to Cuba.

Kendall resident Rafael Garcel, 72, has been listening to Ramirez on the radio since 1982. He and his family watch the Marlins games with the TV on mute while listening to Ramirez on the radio.

“Ever since we started watching baseball on TV, we listen to Felo,” Garcel said. “In the beginning especially, when we didn’t understand English at all, his voice served as a bridge to connect us to baseball and American culture.”

Felo gave me a great piece of advice at the beginning of my career when we worked together in Venezuela. He said, ‘You will learn more if you arrive early to the games.’

Sports journalist Mike Flores

At Tropical Park, new generations of boys with baseball dreams, like Ramirez when he was growing up, will learn the game on the field named after him.

“I am immensely happy and grateful to all of those who have believed in me and supported me throughout these years,” Ramirez said.

He never imagined his career would take him so far, and so far away from his small hometown in Bayamo, Cuba.

Right from the start, his first love was baseball. He played second base on a local team during his teens and dreamed of becoming a professional, but said he wasn’t very good. One day during a game, he spontaneously began calling plays using a friend’s amplifier and microphone. The rest is history.

Ramirez began his radio career at Radio Salas in Havana in 1945. He then went on to Puerto Rico and Venezuela, calling action for the Cagua Natives, Santurce Crabs, San Juan Senators and Magallanes, among other teams.

For decades, he shared his microphone with his idol and fellow Hall of Fame broadcaster Eloy “Buck” Canel on the “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports,” a show which aired on more than 200 Spanish radio stations. (The radio-turned-television program ran from 1942 to 1960.)

Though he never had children of his own, Ramirez has been a mentor and paternal figure to many along the way.

“Felo gave me a great piece of advice at the beginning of my career when we worked together in Venezuela,” said longtime friend and journalist Mike Flores. “He said, ‘You will learn more if you arrive early to the games.’”

Ramirez’s pre-game routine remains the same, even in his 90s. He drives to Marlins Park three hours before each game to hang out in the clubhouse or dugout, talk with players and get a sense of the vibe for the day.

He admits the job is getting harder with age, especially traveling to more than a hundred away games per season. Next year, he will limit his travel to games on the East Coast only.

It’s about as close to retirement as he plans to get.

“I think about [retiring] sometimes,” Ramirez said. “But I adore what I do so much. It’s really my life, not just a job.”

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