Ornelas vital Hispanic ambassador, mentor
Rangers' veteran Spanish radio broadcaster's reach goes beyond play-by-play duties
ARLINGTON -- Rangers pitcher Alexi Ogando was named to the American League All-Star team in 2011, but his mother was reluctant to fly to Phoenix to watch the game.
Then Fefa Ogando received a phone call from Eleno Ornelas, the Rangers' Spanish radio broadcaster. He told her that she did not want to miss this game.
"I told her this might be her only chance, that this may never happen again," Ornelas said.
Ornelas was convincing. Ogando was joined by his mom in Phoenix, she rode with him in the Red Carpet parade and then watched him pitch in the game. Afterward, she thanked Ornelas profusely for persuading her to attend the game.
"She had a great time," Ornelas said.
It's always wise to listen to what Ornelas has to say. He is in his 14th season broadcasting Rangers games in Spanish, but his play-by-play duties are only a part of what he does for the organization, the players and the fans. Ornelas has become a confidant to the players and an invaluable resource in the Rangers' efforts to reach out to the large Hispanic population in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Major League Baseball is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, and the Rangers honored 15 players before their game against the Athletics on Sunday. The Rangers have always been strong with Hispanic players, and that's part of why Ornelas has become an integral and esteemed member of the organization.
"He always has a smile and is a great ambassador, not just to the Hispanic community but the community as a whole," Rangers vice president Jim Sundberg said. "He is very valuable in how he represents himself, his connections to the Hispanic community and with our players. They have grown to really trust him."
That's probably because Ornelas, like many of the Rangers' players from Latin America, came from a humble background, overcame significant hurdles and was able to achieve one of his lifelong dreams.
Ornelas grew up in Juarez, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, and his father was a maintenance worker at Texas Western University. He was a huge baseball fan growing up and was 8 years old when he first heard Hall of Fame announcer Buck Canel broadcast the World Series in Spanish into Mexico and the rest of Latin America.
"I used to listen him, and one day I told my dad that I would like to do that, just call one play and see how it feels," Ornelas said. "My dad said, 'You're crazy, we're in Mexico.' But my dream came true. I never gave up."
It's a story Ornelas tells on his many visits to local high schools. He is a popular and sought-after speaker, often bringing Ranger Captain with him. He knows of 48 children who he counseled one on one, boys and girls who were ready to drop out of school until he convinced them that completing their education was the best thing they can do for their family.
"I am very proud of that," Ornelas said. "They have made me feel a part of their family. They invited me to their graduations."
Not bad for somebody who dropped out twice in school before achieving his dream. But he just needed time to learn English before he really got on the highway to the Ballpark in Arlington.
Ornelas grew up in Juarez but had a chance to go to high school in El Paso because his father worked across the border. Ornelas attended El Paso Jefferson for a time, but he gave up because he couldn't speak English. He eventually came back and got a GED. That helped him get into what is now the University of Texas at El Paso.
"I had to work at night to learn English in addition to taking my regular classes during the day," Ornelas said. "It was tough for me to take English and regular classes. But that's what I tell kids when I go to talk to them in schools. I tell them I was one who didn't want to learn English, but if I didn't learn English, I wouldn't be talking to them now."
Ornelas studied to be a lawyer at UTEP, but he dropped out when he got married. Through his brother, he got into the construction business and moved to Dallas. Ornelas also got involved in the local Mexican amateur baseball league, serving as secretary, treasurer and president. He also started calling in weekly league reports to KRVA AM 1600, the former Spanish station. Then KRVA started sending Ornelas out to the Rangers' game to interview Latin stars like Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez.
"I always loved baseball, and we were one of two Spanish-speaking stations that were talking baseball," Ornelas said. "The others were talking about football and soccer."
While doing so, Ornelas became acquainted with John Blake, the Rangers' vice president of communications. When Luis Mayoral, the Rangers' first Spanish broadcaster, left after the 1999 season, Ornelas joined the broadcast team. He spent three years as the No. 2 man before becoming the lead broadcaster in 2003.
Unfortunately, his father passed away before he could witness his son achieving his dream. But as a native of Mexico, Ornelas was a big hit with a Hispanic audience that is largely of Mexican descent.
"It made a huge difference," Blake said.
Ornelas is also the Rangers' chief Spanish translator for the media. But he was also working for Univision's national radio network on Sept. 11, 2001. His job was to watch CNN and to translate the news of what was happening in New York to all Spanish radio stations. He was on the air when the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center.
Beyond his broadcasting and translator duties, Ornelas has made a big difference in the clubhouse on a team that has had so many young players come through Arlington from all over Latin America. Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Joseph Ortiz and Leonys Martin are just the latest in a long line of Rangers players who have been guided through the early years of their Major League career.
Ornelas talks to them about where to live and eat, how to act, where to buy their clothes and where to buy their goats for those special holiday meals.
"The Dominican players like to eat goat," Ornelas said. "There are some stores that have them, and I know which ones have them."
His advice goes beyond culinary tips.
"The best advice I give them is stay on the right track," Ornelas said. "It's hard to make it to the Majors, but it's even harder to stay there. Stay on the right track, choose your friends carefully. It doesn't matter if they are Latino or not. The ones that can help you are the real friends. The offseason is the time to have fun. During the season, you need to think baseball, eat baseball and live baseball.
"That's what I tell them."
The success the Rangers have had with their international development program suggests that the players listen to him. Whether it's a player, a mother, a student in school or one of the many listeners to the Rangers' Spanish broadcasts, it has always been wise to listen to Eleno Ornelas.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.