NEW YORK -- Mets fans these days know Juan Alicea as the Spanish radio voice of the team, broadcasting games nightly on ESPN Deportes. But where Alicea started, and how he arrived here, is a 44-year-old story that -- like so many others shared during Hispanic Heritage Month -- has its roots in the community.
Throughout the first portion of his 44-year tenure with the Mets, Alicea served in a variety of scouting and community relations positions, even evaluating future Major Leaguers Lee Mazzilli and Nino Espinosa. But his focus was always on community service, and as Spanish-language radio baseball broadcasts began surfacing in certain Hispanic metropolitan areas, Alicea realized the airways could be his ticket to reach people.
"I found my niche there," Alicea said of the broadcasting industry. "I said, 'This is the way the Mets are going to get into the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Florida and the Hispanic universe.' What I wanted to do was build a bridge to the community, so whatever worked to do that was fine with me."
Cutting his teeth alongside legendary Spanish-language baseball reporter Juan Vene, Alicea soon began influencing the way the Mets construct and disseminate their broadcasts. Today, his shows feature a mix of Mets play-by-play and reporting from around the game, plus sporadic charitable promotions from players.
Through radio, Alicea can deliver his personal messages to fans, whether about an upcoming charity event at Citi Field, a toy drive to benefit children in the Dominican Republic or anything else he deems worth sharing. For the past 17 years, Alicea has helped Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal with his Golf Classic in the Dominican, for example, often organizing a group from New York to fly down and attend.
Locally, Alicea was the engine behind theme nights at Citi Field, which evolved from an annual Latin American Day in the 1990s to Merengue Night concerts at Shea Stadium, and ultimately to today's business-sponsored events at Citi Field. The Mets have partnered with Goya during such events in years past, bringing Hispanic musicians to the ballpark and wearing blue "Los Mets" jerseys.
"It all began with theme days, as they're called now," Alicea said. "I think that allowed us to penetrate the community at the grassroots."
Some of the team's efforts to reach out to the Hispanic community, such as monthly Spanish-language press conferences, have evolved now that superstars Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Pedro Martinez are no longer with the organization. But the infrastructure that Alicea helped build over his first 44 years in Flushing is still in place.
"If I can get the Mets involved, I feel that I'm touching base with the Hispanic community and trying to make us accessible and closer to what they're doing," Alicea said, before adding: "We've had a pretty good run."