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Parlante Española

Throughout the 12-day run of last month’s Little League World Series, a familiar face to both the fans in the stands and those watching TV was that of ESPN’s multi-lingual reporter Sebastian Salazar, whose insightful interactions with players and spectators brought to life stories beyond the playing field.

Raised in Washington, D.C., the son of a father from western New York and a mother from Mexico, Salazar credits his mother as the driving force behind his opportunity to excel at what he calls his ‘dream job.’

“My Mom is the reason I speak Spanish. She is the one that drove that home. She made an important decision when I was born. She wanted to make sure her son spoke Spanish and understood Mexican culture, and keep her traditions alive. Before I went to elementary school, it was her focus that I would speak Spanish. My Dad, who only spoke English, had to learn Spanish so we in the house could drive it home.

“When I started school, English overtook the Spanish, but because I had learned Spanish first, it was hard-wired into me. There hasn’t been a moment in my professional career when I can’t point to being bi-lingual either as a reason I got a job or the reason I excelled in a job. Sometimes, it helped open a door, and sometimes, once I got in, it proved I was capable of more. I owe that to my mom. She was intelligent to see what it could mean for me in the future.”

Salazar joined ESPN in 2016, following work at a regional sports network in Washington.

“I had been there a few years and was about to renew my contract, but they had lost their soccer rights. I was always a soccer guy at heart. About that time, ESPN had expressed interest in bringing me on in a soccer role, calling some games, reporting, and hosting a studio show. You can’t say no to ESPN, and I jumped at it.

“ESPN later decided to see what I could do in something other than soccer in 2017 and assigned me to cover my first World Series. That provided a real opportunity for me.

“Anytime you can learn a different language, you are going to be capable of communicating with a different part of the world. Specifically, when you talk about this event, my ability to connect with people of different languages and cultures is why I am here. It is not for my baseball knowledge. It’s because I can speak a few languages, am curious, and like to tell stories.

“I love the International bracket. I love the breadth of stories that we get. The teams on the United States bracket also have great stories, but they are miles different from the teams that come here from all corners of the world. The opportunity to come here and get a wide array of stories from all over the world and the wide social/economic backgrounds represented really interests me. These stories relate what baseball is beyond the game and what it can mean to people and the doors it can open for these kids and their futures.”

Asked what he would do if offered the choice of any job in the world, his response was swift.

“I love the job I have now. I think I am in the right place, the right network, and I love the mix of stuff that I do. I love the soccer events I do, but when you are with ESPN, you get access to other things, and this is one of those things. Soccer is my passion, but if you told me I could have another job — but I couldn’t do the Little League World Series — I wouldn’t take it. This is the event that excites me the most and makes me the happiest to cover. It’s what became a dream job for me at ESPN. For me, it is the greatest event in sports.”

For Salazar, Williamsport has been with him since childhood.

“Growing up, I passed through Williamsport many times. My dad has family in western New York, and we visited often. We’d make trips every year and come right up Route 15. Every trip, I would get Dad to stop at the Dixie Baseball Card shop to get some cards and to McDonald’s for ice cream and fries. Then we would pull into the museum parking lot and just look down into Lamade Stadium and appreciate in person what I would watch on TV each year. While I never saw myself covering the World Series, I’ve always had a soft spot and a romantic appreciation for Williamsport.”

As it has helped him, Salazar encourages others to take the step to learn another language.

“You are closing yourself off. Language is such a beautiful thing, and it can be scary. We know how to speak in one language, and we don’t want to look foolish to others. My Spanish is not perfect, but if we are both brave and talk to each other, we can meet in the middle. It is so important to try. If you can take one step away from your comfort zone, somebody else will meet you in that space. But you need to have the bravery and work at it. I would encourage kids to find another language they can use and learn it. It will open doors for them individually, meeting new people and understanding the world.”

For Salazar, it was language, not baseball, that led him to his Williamsport field of dreams.