On a cool early November night in Tijuana, the nearly full Estadio Caliente was starting to get a sense of optimism about it. Club Tijuana had been eliminated from the playoffs the night before thanks to their own poor run of form and some unfavorable results elsewhere, and in that night’s game against Monarcas Morelia it looked early on like a playoff-bound Monarquia was set to pile on the misery. An early goal from Miguel Sansores had put Monarcas up in the first half, but just eight minutes into the second half young midfielder Antonio Nava rejuvenated the crowd by scoring his first professional goal; tying the game and giving the rojinegros faithful something to be hopeful about. The crowd was loud and starting to really get into it when eight minutes later, Sebastian Vegas would hit a left footed half-volley past Gibran Lajud.
Estadio Caliente fell silent, except for one man.
Nate Abaurrea, who is the English-language radio voice for Club Tijuana, shouted the familiar “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!” call into his mic. Abaurrea broadcasts the club’s home games on MORE FM in Southern California and norther Baja California on the terrestrial radio dial as well as its streaming counterpart online. As the Monarcas players knelt in a circle and pointed upward to make a symbolic crown, only Abaurrea’s voice cut through the sound of a stadium deflating.
“It was a brilliant left footed drive,” Abaurrea told me earlier in the week. “I remember most of the goals from this season because there weren’t that many of them,” he quipped during an hour long interview that touched on everything from how he fell in love with soccer to what it takes to prep to broadcast a soccer match to an untold amount of people in at least two countries.
Born in Watsonville, California, Abaurrea was introduced to soccer at a young age. There was “a very, very strong Mexican-American presence that made a lasting impact in my life,” Abaurrea says. “Professionally, socially, just in every aspect - especially with the game of football, with the game of soccer. But there was also a strong British ex-pat presence in my life from a young age. Some extended family, so I had a very very strong English soccer presence in my life from a very young age and whether it was old Englishmen or young Mexican-American friends, or just people from other countries” all helped nurture his interest in the game.
While he never played organized soccer, Abaurrea would often play pickup with neighborhood kids - although he admits he was predominately a baseball player growing up. “I played baseball at much deeper and higher competitive levels than my soccer career ever reached,” he says with a laugh. “I never played ‘competitive’ travel soccer, whatever you want to call it, the pay-to-play model was not exactly friendly to my parents’ budget.” He did however play soccer, be it in the street, in rec leagues, and men’s leagues in Watsonville and the surrounding communities.
The progression from playing soccer to wanting to be a broadcaster came naturally to Abaurrea. “I think it’s all kind of tied together,” he says, noting as a kid he’d mute the television and do his own commentary. “I was immersed in so many different aspects of the media side of things from such a young age.” He got his start with Club Tijuana doing television broadcasts for a couple of seasons, which were aired in San Diego County. A deal was worked out with MORE FM, which Abaurrea accurately describes as “a dual-national radio station out of Tijuana.” Much like the San Diego-Tijuana area straddles the line between two worlds, MORE FM straddles the line between old-school terrestrial radio station with transmitters all across northern Baja California and southern California and new-school online radio with broadcasts streamed anywhere in the world.
Still, he hasn’t lost his initial connection to the game. “To me we should all be fans first,” he says, but his devotion to his craft supersedes any fan loyalties. “You can get professional when it’s time, and you’ve got to. There’s times when especially as a commentator where you’ve got to maintain a neutral approach. You’ve got to be able to look at the game from a neutral’s eye and make sure that you’re not letting bias creep into your work.” He cites long time San Francisco Giants broadcaster Jon Miller as an inspiration, having grown up listening to Miller call games on the radio when he was growing up. When I tell him about my own memories as a kid listening to Florida State Seminoles football games on the radio, Abaurrea perks up.
“For you, it’s Florida State games. For somebody else, it’s ‘insert team’ from ‘insert sport here’, and everybody’s got a story” about listening to sports on the radio. “Everybody’s always got those stories about ‘Oh I remember hearing those games on the radio and that unmistakable voice,’ and everybody’s got that one commentator that they always remember.”
Abaurrea also cites Derek Rae as an influence, “There’s a list, a pretty grand list of names that come to mind,” when I ask about who his influences are. “Jon Miller and Derek Rae are right up there at the top,” but he also cites a British influence with names like Clive Tyldesley, John Motson, Martin Tyler, and Peter Drury. “My God, Peter Drury. I could listen to Peter Drury commentate games for (days)” he says, continuing that Drury is “something different. He’s got his own different style that I’ve heard from nobody else ever. And it’s a style that’s very reminiscent of a lot of the Latino commentators who I’ve grown up listening to, who I’ve learned Spanish through.” He lists Andrés Cantor, Mariano Closs, and Pablo Ramírez as the Spanish-language influences.
Our talk meanders often. Abaurrea talks about everything from his “soccer catechism” by reading Andrés Cantor’s books and his eventual friendship with Andrés’ son Nico who does English-language broadcasts to how Tijuana and Monterrey share his love of baseball and soccer. But it always comes back to Abaurrea’s love of and respect for the game. His prep work starts on Monday for Saturday games, and while he keeps his notes in a giant notebook, he admits he often only uses ten to fifteen per cent of that in a game. “You’ve got to condense it down to what really matters,” Abaurrea tells me. “It’s a challenge for someone like myself. I’ve got a lot of different things I want to say. A lot of knowledge and stories that I want to share within a game, but it’s also important to remember that the number one thing I need to do during a broadcast is to call the game.”
My full interview with Abaurrea can be heard here. Abaurrea is on the call for every Xolos home game on 98.9 FM in the Tijuana-San Diego area, on 106.7 FM in the Mexicali and Calexico area, and streaming live on morefmonline.com