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Rickie Ricardo, Spanish voice of Yankees and Eagles, in league of his own

NEW YORK -- The ball is rising, and with it, Rickie Ricardo's pulse.

The Spanish radio voice of the New York Yankees lives for these moments, when the ball is sailing toward the heavens and his voice is the only thing between a fan and impending jubilation.

When Wilson Ramos of the Tampa Bay Rays sends a Jordan Montgomery pitch toward deep-right-center field at Yankee Stadium in the first inning of a late-September night game with the bases loaded, Ricardo perks up.

Just a few minutes earlier, he'd gargled some original-flavor Listerine, and it's a good thing, too, because Aaron Hicks is on the run and Ricardo's throat is tired. Hicks goes back, back, reaches up over the 385-foot sign and comes down with the ball. Yankee Stadium erupts. Ricardo, too.

"Absolutamente spectacular!" he shouts into his microphone, conveying the excitement of the play to the legion of Spanish-language radio listeners and those watching television at home with the SAP button pressed.

It is his third could-be-viral call in three days of nonstop action, in two languages, across two sports.

Forget bilingual. Ricardo is bi-league-ual.

SITTING IN A NEW YORK Mexican restaurant on a Wednesday afternoon, Ricardo starts to choke up.

He had talked about his father and Fidel Castro, who stole his father's business in Cuba, and the pain it caused his family, who fled to the United States and rebuilt their lives. But it's not that.

He'd talked about the pride of representing the Yankees and Philadelphia Eagles to a growing audience of Spanish-speaking fans. But it's not that, either.

It's the jalapeno he has eaten whole.

"Good for the voice," he says, choking it down.

He'll need it.

Later that day, he'll call yet another Yankees game, though there is no way it will approach the excitement of his previous 72 hours.

On the previous Sunday, his play-by-play of Eagles rookie kicker Jake Elliott's 61-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired went national, the "Si, senor! Si, senor! Si, senor!" call getting ample airplay.

A day later, he called Yankees rookie bomber Aaron Judge's 49th and 50th home runs of the season, his "Se va! Se va! Se fue!" call getting similar run.

And on Tuesday, Hicks' grand slam larceny took center stage.

"I would do it every week," he says. "I'd be bored if I didn't have that kind of pressure on me."

This is what Rickie Ricardo dreamed of, even if he took a strange path to get here.

We're talking Rick James-level strange. Super freakish.

RICARDO'S HEROES were not Mel Allen and Harry Caray, but the radio DJs who dominated the New York sound. No. 1 in his heart: Frankie Crocker, the Chief Rocker, the pioneer of "urban contemporary" radio.

Ricardo, born Jorge Lima Jr., got his start in Orlando after spending the summer of his 17th year with relatives in New Jersey, where he went to broadcasting school. His first job was at a "disco station in the middle of an orange grove."

One day, he found out Crocker would be in Miami Beach, so he went to meet his idol.

"Hey kid, send me a tape," Crocker told him.

Ricardo impressed Crocker, got an audition for WBLS radio in New York and nailed it. He was given the midday block, noon to 4 p.m., as well as a new nickname by Crocker, based on his Cuban heritage and a certain TV character, that would stick.

These were wild times, the mid-'80s of New York. Disco was still the rage, Studio 54 was still the place to be; Crocker threw Ricardo a 21st birthday party there.

He also introduced him to Rick James backstage at a concert. As emcee, Crocker was contractually prohibited from bringing James onstage because of a prior deal; he asked Ricardo to do it, and James liked the kid's style and took him on tour for the next six summers as his touring emcee.

Ricardo beams as he tells the story of one snowed-in Buffalo weekend at James' house, where he and James helped Eddie Murphy record "Party All the Time" during the comedian's brief singing days.

Ricardo's fiancée -- and Eagles radio partner -- Maria Berral sees his energy on display every day. They met calling Philadelphia's famous Wing Bowl eating contest in 2014. Their on-air chemistry stayed even after the mics were turned off.

"It doesn't take a home run," she said. "We get excited about coffee. 'Oh my goodness this coffee is so good!' When the Eagles score a touchdown, we're up and dancing. We celebrate life."

And, sometimes, death.

RICARDO WILL NEVER forget the date. Nov. 25, 2016. The day Fidel Castro died.

He heard about it on the radio driving back up the New Jersey turnpike. He pulled over immediately and found the closest spot for a beer, cracked one open, "looked up and said, 'Pop, this is for you.'"

A half-century prior, the revolutionary dictator had just taken power in Cuba when one of Jorge Lima's closest friends and workers failed to show up for his job at Lima's bus depot. Days later, he showed back up wearing a military uniform and seized Lima's business -- the bus route, the buses, the building. It was now property of Castro and the Cuban government.

As quickly as he could, Lima and his wife, Elsa, started moving money stateside. In 1961, with Elsa pregnant with Jorge Jr., they made it to New Jersey, where he was born. Jorge and Elsa each worked two eight-hour shifts at two different factories, calling on young Jorge's grandmother to attend to the little boy. They worked hard, and they got by, and they worked harder, and they eventually could afford to move to Florida. Jorge decided to settle in Orlando, where a new theme park was being built -- Disney World. He had a hunch the place would be a success.

His son would grow to be one, too, and in a hurry.

In less than three years since taking the reins of the Yankees Spanish broadcast after a successful top-40 radio career, Ricardo has turned it into a thriving enterprise. Along with WFAN salesman Joe Rojas, Ricardo has grown the broadcast from just over $300,000 in sales to nearly $2 million, with projections soaring.

Not bad for a guy who got his start in baseball in the mid-2000s with the Florida Marlins, where he'd sit in for an inning or two.

A few years later, he ended up in Philadelphia as a "Spanish ambassador" and was asked to call an inning or two for the Phillies. Ricardo said if you give me an inning, I'm never leaving. "Three nights later," he said, "the main guy gets sick and I fill in, and I never left. I became the No. 2 guy until he left."

The Phillies gig led him to the Eagles and, in 2014, to the Yankees. (He still does some Phillies coverage for the station that broadcasts the Eagles.)

"He's got a terrific set of pipes," said Marc Rayfield, who runs CBS Radio's New York stations. "But also, he's not a wallflower. He's not a guy who drops a résumé off and waits for you to call him. He willed this opportunity to happen."

In a time when Latinos make up nearly 30 percent of Major League Baseball rosters, versatile voices like Ricardo's are becoming increasingly important.

So are the bonds he can form with players whose paths he understands.

"The heritage part is knowing that their struggle just to get here to play baseball is probably harder than any inning they'll have to pitch," said Rojas, Ricardo's WFAN sales partner. "What's three men on base in the ninth inning when you had to cross five times in a raft to get to this country?"

A DAY AFTER CALLING Judge's two blasts, a blast from Ricardo's past shows up at Yankee Stadium.

Mike Tyson walks onto the dirt looking as tough as he did in his heyday, with people craning their necks and yelling, "Hey, Champ!" Ricardo gets a glint in his eye.

The two met during the wildness of the mid-'80s. Tyson was a fan of James and would go backstage for concerts; likewise, James and Ricardo took in some of Tyson's fights in Las Vegas. Tyson found out Ricardo was a New York radio DJ and asked if he could come spin records. "The champ wants to spin records on my show? Absolutely," Ricardo says.

"Security would call up, 'Uh, there's a Mike Tyson here for you?'"

On Tuesday, they reminisced.

"Mike pulled me in and whispered, 'We made it. We survived. We're still here,'" Ricardo says. "I mean, we lived some turbulent times. I looked at him and said, 'I think we're two of the last Mohicans, buddy. Rick's gone. Prince is gone. And we're here. We're still here." He pounds the table for emphasis, the tortilla chips bouncing out of the bowl.

Minutes later, he gets up. It's almost 3 p.m.

He adjusts his tie, takes a gulp of water, clears his throat.

He is due at Yankee Stadium, for another call.

Related Video
'Si Señor!' -  Ricardo's enthusiastic field goal call
'Si Señor!' - Ricardo's enthusiastic field goal call
Watch Rickie Ricardo's call on Jake Elliott's game-winning 61-yard field goal for the Philadelphia Eagles.

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