Oscar Budejen, the Phillies Spanish-radio broadcaster, draws fans from around the world. He joined the Phillies in 2021, but has long worked in sports broadcasting, business, marking and promotion. Here he's shown at Minute Maid Park in Houston before Game One of the World Series, the photo taken on Oct. 27, 2022. Read more
The Phillies are going to win the World Series in six games.
Take it from Oscar Budejen, who knows something about seizing opportunity — and overcoming obstacles.
He’s the team’s Spanish-language play-by-play announcer, a broadcaster whose soaring calls of the Phils’ most thrilling moments — cue the tape of Bryce Harper’s pennant-winning home run against San Diego — make the hairs stand up on your arm.
But long before that, Budejen was simply a boy obsessed with sports, who lived with a radio earpiece stuck in his ear to hear the games, born and raised in Venezuela by parents who were neither Venezuelan nor, until revolution drove them to South America, intended to build their lives in the country.
“I’m a citizen of the world that’s found a home in Philly,” said Budejen, 60, speaking from Houston before the Phils were to face the Astros in game one on Friday night.
This magical World Series season marks Budejen’s second year with the team, building on his tenure in broadcasting, global business, and sports marketing. He and booth colleague Bill Kulik serve an audience that’s projected only to increase.
An estimated 42 million Americans speak Spanish at home. Among Latinos, 68% speak Spanish in their homes — it’s 93% for those who immigrated — and their numbers are growing rapidly.
Latinos represent the second-fastest growing ethnic group in the United States, behind Asians, increasing 70% to more than 60 million people between 2000 and 2019.
The number of Latinos in Pennsylvania surpassed 1 million in the 2020 census, while in New Jersey the population grew in all 21 countries to nearly 2 million people. Similar growth is occurring in Philadelphia.
The Phillies Spanish broadcasts pull listeners from the region and the world. Some fans live in baseball-loving nations like Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, others in Austria, Germany, Spain and Argentina. Some are English-speakers who struggle to understand Budejen’s calls but are drawn by a love of baseball, the joy of his presentation and a desire to learn Spanish.
Budejen’s path to the Phillies broadcast booth included leadership positions with Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, and Aramark, where he worked with top professional teams and players. In the 1990s he helped Disney reimagine the Coke experience in the theme parks and worked to connect the NBA brand to the world.
That could have never happened, he said, without the sacrifices of his parents and grandparents.
His father, Nagib Budejen, was 18 when he left his native Lebanon, having no money for college and few prospects. He traveled by ship from Beirut to Italy, sailed again from Italy to New York, then drove south to Miami. Not knowing a word of Spanish, he caught a plane to Cuba, where an uncle offered a chance for firmer footing or at least a line on a job.
Nagib Budejen taught himself Spanish. He got into radio. Eventually he took a job with Ralston Purina, the big pet food company.
Something else happened in Cuba. Nagib Budejen fell in love. Maria Elena Fernandez was 18, born in the capital of Havana and living in Guantanamo.
Their courtship changed after Castro’s revolution.
In late 1960 Budejen was taken from his job at gunpoint, as the Cuban government nationalized industries. A few months later, on their way to a wedding at the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo, the couple was stopped and interrogated by soldiers.
It was time to leave. They decided he would go first and she would follow. Budejen left Cuba with $20 hidden in a tube of toothpaste — it was forbidden to take money out of the country — and arrived in Mexico to find that the cash had disintegrated.
Ralston Purina wired money. They wanted Budejen to work for them in Venezuela.
The couple’s son, Oscar, was born in Caracas in 1962.
Most summers, family ties took him to Atlanta, and when he was 18 he came permanently to the United States. He spent a year at Georgia Tech, working to improve his English, then tackled the undergraduate and MBA programs at Mercer University.
At 19 he approached the CBS Spanish-language program in Atlanta, persuading the producers that he could improve their report. Still a teenager, he was soon doing the sports news on television. On weekends, he’d go to see the Atlanta Falcons, the city’s historically awful football team. Budejen figured out where the coaches sat on the stadium’s upper tier and moved near them, so he could hear their inside-the-game discussions and ask questions, making himself a student of the sport.
In coming years his broadcast work took him as far as sports could reach, covering Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA and college football. He’s covered multiple Super Bowls, World Series and NBA Finals, and today also works as color analyst for the Eagles Spanish radio broadcasts.
Last year he got a call from Kulik, the longtime Phillies broadcaster who had established the Spanish Béisbol Network. He wanted Budejen to fill an opening in the booth.
With the team Budejen started Phillies Latino Heroes, a program that honors the contributions of everyday people, and a continuation of his engagement with organizations including Congreso de Latinos Unidos in Philadelphia and the National Hispanic Corporate Council in Washington. The second set of regional honorees will be announced after the World Series.
So what does he expect during the next week or so?
“We’re here to make history,” Budejen said. “We have a tremendous opportunity to win a World Series. All you can ask in life is to have the opportunity. Then it’s what you do with it.”